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April 17, 2015 11:40 +0100  |  Multiculturalism Travel 2

Back in 2002, I was living in Ottawa working for a terrible company with some really terrible people. One of these people, upom returning from a trip to Madrid, went on at length about how scary and dangerous it was.

Oh Daniel, no one should ever go there. People ride around on scooters and slash open your bags just to steal from you. Everywhere you look, there are criminals!

Jodie was a horrible person, a racist, and an idiot, and yet I let her depcition of this city poison me against it for more than a decade. Thankfully though, I managed to ignore her just long enough to book a flight, and I'm glad I did.

Madrid is a curious place. Like most European cities, it's very old, the product of repeated wars over the centuries. The architecture is a mix between traditional Muslim and French styles, but taller, with a gradiose, almost Austrian influence. The city has managed to make itself both heavily pedestrianised and car-friendly... it just depends on where you go.

There are a number of wide open public spaces, used for markets and restaurant patios, chained together with a long series of pedestrian-friendly, walkable malls. Everywhere you look there are bakeries, tapas bars, and churro cafés, along with a (presumably new) littany of toursit-centric cuisine: doughnuts and hamburgers.

I had four days in Madrid, so I took my time getting to know the city. I took one of those fabulous Free Madrid city tours, where Ramón gave us all a brief history of the city including the trading lands between the Muslims and the Catholics, the Inquisition, and the Royal Family. I learnt about Carlos the Bewitched and the slutty inclinations of Queen Isabella I. If you've never been on one of these free tours, I can't recommend them enough. I've never been disappointed and I never regret tipping well.

I spent a good few days just wandering the parks. Madrid has two primary green spaces and at least a dozen other ones peppering the city. The Parque del Retiro is the more traditional European park: manicured and maintained as an open public space with fountains and statues everywhere, the park is filled with the sounds of children playing, and buskers looking to entertain. Young couples are everywhere, making out in the grass, and there are tourists like me, wandering the park, camera in hand, shooting at everything.

There's also a statue tribue to Satan there. Apparently it's the only one in existence.

On the East side of the city is Casa de Campo, a massive park in the style of Vancouver's Stanley Park only THREE TIMES THE SIZE. The former hunting grounds of the Royal Family (and battle ground during the Spanish Civil War), Casa de Campo has a lake, and a yacht club, and an acquarium, and a zoo, and a gondola, and... I have no idea, because in an entire day, I could only visit a fragment of it. My one regret from this visit was not spending more time there. One of the locals told me that they've worked very hard to keep the park diverse, with samplings of trees from all over the world.

My favourite memory from Madrid however has to be the flamenco performance & dinner that I attended on Tuesday night. At no other time during my visit were the multicultural origins of the city (and I suppose, Spain in general) more apparent than when I sat at the foot of that tiny stage. Flamenco, it would appear, is as our tour guide suggested of Spanish culture: "we take other ideas, and keep what we like". The music is deeply layered, and rythmically complex. The performance is effectively improvised between five musicians and at least one dancer, making it a sort of "Spanish jazz" in style. The cobbling together of artists is reflected in the clear connections to foreign roots, specifically Muslim. It was almost like attending an intimate call to prayer, but with a sense of shared joy and excitement.

And then there were the dancers.

Flamenco isn't so much a performance as it is a shared religious experience. The dancer steps onto the stage and allows the music to fill them, proceeding to do whatever feels natural. It's inspiring to watch and so difficult to describe, but they're not dancing so much as serving as a vessel. Elizabeth Gilbert explains this best in her TED talk, where she talks about how when onlookers shout "Olé!", this is a way of invoking "god", that somehow, in that moment, he is working through the performers. I didn't quite understand her when I first heard this, but now it makes complete sense.

I'm now on a high-speed train on my way to Seville, enjoying a leisurely 210kph. I'm not sure if I'll ever return to Madrid, but I'm glad I took the time to see it. As a Canadian, it's interesting to visit a place that has undergone a sort of multicultural experiment -- albeit unintentionally -- mingling Christian and Muslim, Spanish, French, and Austrian styles and traditions over the centuries. From where I'm sitting, it was a success.

January 25, 2015 23:51 +0000  |  Auckland Australia Austria Greece New Zealand Personal Life Ripe NCC Sydney Travel Vancouver 1

If there's any tradition that I try to keep on this blog, it's this annual post, the one that recaps the previous year and tries to sound optimistic about the future. I try to be thorough enough that someone might easily get a beat on what my life's been like simply by reading one post a year for the last 11 years. Of course, I've not been as disciplined as I might have liked on this front. I don't have anywhere near 11 "year in review" posts.

Looking back on some of those posts though, I realise that it must have been easy to write them: my life was either in transition, or just moving into or out of one. 2014 by comparison hasn't been particularly remarkable -- at least in the sense that one might be able to point to it as a time in my life that something was happening.

Mostly, 2014 was a year of being comfortable in my life here in Amsterdam. In much the same theme as the my life and theirs post from way back, 2014 has seen me get comfortable with the idea that I'm here for the long-term.

Christina and I are the real deal, with three years together as of February. We share a lovely place in Amsterdam with a beautiful view of the Ij and life here is pretty good. Work hasn't changed much either, but I'm comfortable in my role at RIPE and I enjoy working for a company that actually does Good for the world.

My life hasn't changed much at all this past year, but I still can report that my life is going well. I'll try to recap some of the highlights here.

Travel

As with every year since my moving to the Netherlands, 2014 had a lot of Travelling in it. Not as much as last year, but I did manage to seem some amazing places.

FOSDEM

As is becoming tradition, Christina and I took the trip down to Brussels for the annual FOSDEM conference. There's not much to report on this other than that FOSDEM is amazing and probably the best conference I've ever been to. If you've never been, you should go.

Vienna

Christina had a conference in Vienna in the Spring, and she took me with her so I could meet her friends Max & Julia who promised to give us a tour of the city. Vienna is lovely, and strangely grandiose, as if to give one the impression that The Empire was still alive and kicking. Wide open spaces surrounded by tall marble buildings, imposing in the shadow they cast on passers by -- it's not like any other city I've been to.

But the hotdog I had there, OMG. The best thing I've ever had from a street vendor. I ate something called a Bosna and every time someone mentions Vienna, I salivate.

Seriously, I'd consider a trip back just for that sausage if I could justify the environmental implications and financial costs.

Vienna from our hotel

Marseilles, Lyon, & The French Riviera

The other conference I attended in 2014 was DjangoCon Europe which, in 2013, was held in Warsaw, but this year they decided to host a 3 day conference on a tiny island off the south coast of France. I took the opportunity to do some sightseeing around Southern France and find myself surprisingly disappointed with Marseilles. Lyon on the other hand is beautiful and impressively both managed and designed. Photos from my trip can be found in my image gallery.

Lyon

Manchester & Couch

Some of you may not know this, but Christina may have been born in Greece, but her mother is British, and the other half of her family lives in a sleepy little town called Chesterfield, or Couch as I lovingly refer to it.

Chesterfield is an out-of-the-way hamlet without an airport in the North of England. When I asked people what I should see/do there, locals would always say: "Have you seen the crooked spire?" When I replied with "Yes, anything else?" I was met with silence. Yes, Chesterfield is that boring.

I did get to meet Christina's other side though, so that made the trip worth it.

Thessaloniki, Athens & Nafplio

Amazing Graffiti in Thessaloniki

Christina had another conference in Thessaloniki (Θεσσαλονίκη), so we decided to take a couple weeks and see some more of Greece. This was my third trip to Greece, but my first time leaving Athens to see other parts of the mainland.

Thessaloniki is a town with a lot of promise, but the Euro crisis has taken its toll. Some (touristy) areas are well maintained and busy, but there were whole blocks with nothing but abandoned or condemned buildings. Some amazing graffiti though. I wish the graffiti artists in the Netherlands had half as much talent.

We stopped off in Athens for a week or so to spend some time with Christina's family, and then headed off to the Peloponnese (Πελοπόννησος). Christina drove us from Athens to Nafplio (Ναύπλιο) via Corinth (Κόρινθος), and we stayed at a beautiful hotel nestled on a hill surrounded by an orange orchard. We did a little touring in Nafplio (and lots of frozen yogurt), and also took a trip up to the ruins of Mycenae (Μυκήνες) where I was attacked by giant bugs and had a mild panic attack (good times).

Vancouver & Kelowna

Thanks to an um... lets go with scheduling conflict with my dear friend Jeong-Yeon, I ended up in Vancouver this summer, burning most of my vacation days and Jeong-Yeon was nowhere to be found.

Thankfully, I have lots of friends and family there, so it was hardly a waste of a trip. I spent some time visiting in Vancouver, and then headed up to Kelowna to help out around my parent's house and play with my adorable niece.

Photos are here for those interested.

Sydney, Auckland, and much of New Zealand

The Big Trip of the year, possibly the biggest for a long time, was my trip to the country I swore I'd never set foot in, (Australia) and a further adventure into New Zealand.

My travelling partner for this one was the ever-ready-for-adventure Stephanie, who had this whole idea in the first place. We did a few days in Sydney, where I was confronted with a GIANT FUCKING ARACHNID in our hotel room and was thoroughly terrified of the wildlife for the remainder of the trip.

We did yoga on Bondi Beach. I cannot begin to confer how beautiful Bondi was. I am forever indebted to Stephanie for convincing me to face my fear and visit such a beautiful place.

I got to pet a wombat, and a kangaroo, and an echidna, and a koala named Claire. I saw penguins, and a tasmanian devil, and a cacophony of crazy looking exotic animals that weren't trying to kill me, and then I ate a kangaroo burger. Stephanie drank All The Beers, and I watched her consume what would appear to be the finest beverage in the world... something called a rum old fashioned.

And that was just Australia.

Bondi Beach

We met Sue in Auckland, who was a welcome travelling companion for a few days. She drove us from Auckland to Hobbiton where we saw hobbit houses and drank at The Green Dragon, then onto the Waitomo glow worm caves, where we went cave diving with wet suits and inner tubes. Once again, Stephanie convinced me to do something I never would have considered and I am once again thankful for it. Imagine yourself floating in darkness with billions on tiny blue lights overhead surrounded by cave walls and cool water. It was amazing.

Hobbiton

From there we headed to Rotorua, where we visited Te Puia, a Maori cultural centre, before heading back to Auckland and getting my picture next to the Xena Way sign. That was way more fun than it should have been.

We left Sue the next morning for the third and final leg of our trip: the South Island. In Queenstown I rode a horse for the first time in my life and was less terrified than I thought I'd be. I also got some really amazing pictures. We also took the long trip to see Doubtful Sound, an untouched wilderness of trees, water and wildlife, it was also the furthest South either of us had ever been. Indeed, it's the furthest South most people, alive or dead, have ever been.

The horseback trail

We rented a car in Queenstown and Stephanie drove us on the left up to Lake Tekapo where we hiked to the top of Mt. John (less impressive than it sounds, but still lovely), and we took advantage of the night sky reserve one night to see the Southern Cross and explore the night sky as we'd never seen before.

Stephanie with her Firefox ears, on Lake TekapoThe night sky in Tekapo

From Tekapo, Stephanie drove us up to Mt. Cook, only to be turned around by the weather. It would seem that we wouldn't get to see a glacier on this trip. Instead, we drove East to the outskirts of Christchurch, where there was no cell service and barely any people, so we could crash at a cool little place called SiloStay which, as it turns out, wasn't really all that awesome, so I'm not linking to them here. We did however have a quick dinner at a place called Hilltop Tavern, which had prettiest view I've ever seen from any tavern.

The next morning we drove to Christchurch to see what was left of the city after the massive 2011 earthquake. To say that the town was heavily hit is a colossal understatement, and I'm not convinced that they'll ever recover entirely. Three years later, and there are still houses and buildings everywhere that are just half-destroyed and abandoned. However it was nice to see how some were taking advantage of the opportunity to rebuild the city in a way that makes sense (more pedestrian space, better cycling infrastructure etc.). We visited the earthquake museum, learnt about the colourful use of the term munted by officials during the crisis, and then crashed at our guesthouse before getting on our respective planes the next morning.

It's was an amazing trip. It cost me thousands of Euros, sixty hours of air travel, and twelve timezones of jetlag, and I regret nothing.

Photos from all of this, save for a good many lost from my Bondi Beach trip, are available here.

Professional

Professionally, my life hasn't really changed this past year. The RIPE NCC is still a pretty good place to work, if for no other reason than that working there means that I don't go home feeling guilty every night. Instead, strangers thank me publicly for the work I do and my code is Free to share. It's pretty fabulous.

Projects

I did a lot of work this past year on a whole whack of mini projects. Now that I'm finally understanding and using git, a tool written by people who show very little interest in making tools other people can use, I'm now hosting a lot of nifty stuff on GitHub, including my ever-present side project, that mobile game Stephanie and I have been poking at over the years...

Spirithunter

I got a lot of work done on this in 2014. In fact, I had a working alpha back in September, achieving my end-of-year goal months early. I managed this in part by finally saying goodbye to doing bits of work for Collin, and in part by getting some vitimin D into me. I got more work done on this project in 1 week in Athens than I did for most of the rest of the year.

The big challenge for 2015 is going to be:

  • Moving away from django-tastypie because it's effectively abandonware
  • Switching to 1.7
  • Getting some front-end working (coughStephaniecough)
  • Getting some artists to sign on to provide some character artwork

That last one is especially tough, because let's be honest, nobody likes to work for free, so I might just have to dip into my savings and pay for some artwork up-front. I dunno.

RxLenses.ca

I also started doing a lot of work for my father's side-project, RxLenses.ca, an uncut lens reseller for retail optical stores. In the last months of the year especially, I've been working on getting a big feature setup, and once that's finished, the project should be mostly self-sustaining, so I can go back to my other stuff.

Sagan

Sagan was my first "public" component for the RIPE NCC. It was fun to write, and it's been largely embraced by both the company and the community when it comes to do doing the stuff it was designed to do, which is honestly the best any Free software can ever hope for. That's pretty awesome.

Wrap Up

So, this is a lot of stuff to read, so I hope that if you actually read it all, you aren't bored by now. 2014 was good to me, albeit rather static. 2015 is looking good though: I've got a lot of travel planned, some more side projects, and maybe even dance classes. I guess we'll see how that all pans out in about twelve months.

October 30, 2014 20:39 +0000  |  Travel 1

I know that my blog has been neglected over the last few years, but what better time to attempt to give it new life than when I've travelled to the other sid of the planet?

McDonald's in Arabic

I left Amsterdam on Tuesday at 2200h, and arrived here in Sydney roughly 24hours later, or Thursday morning at 0600h for those not yet fully understanding the pain of travelling east through ten timezones. We had a 3 hour stopover in Dubai, which was a little exciting until I realised that the airport is effectively a giant mall that also has planes. They did have a McDonald's though, with the signage in Arabic, and a menu which contained no pork ;-)

The architecture of the airport is pretty amazing though: Insanely high ceilings, with walls of steel and glass. I couldn't get a view of the giant tower in the downtown core though -- not from the ground at least. From the air, Dubai is about as depressing as you'd expect: hectares and hectares of tiny clay buildings, and then off in the distance beautiful spires reaching into the sky. Not that income equality isn't a problem in North America, but Dubai is definitely below the curve on this issue.

I actually managed to get some sleep on the 13hour leg from DXB to SYD and then in a jetlaggy stupor proceeded to spend about three hours in Sydney's congested airport eeking through customs with two over massive flights and three agents processing us. I picked up a SIM card at the airport too (why doens't every airport make it this easy?): $20 for 1GB/day and infinite local calls / texts.

I got into the hotel Steph had booked for us (she'd already been here for a day and was at the conference when I checked in), walked down the hall and entered the room, at which point all of the blood left my face as I yelled HOLY SHIT and ran to the other side of the room. Our room had an unwanted guest, a spider roughly the size of my fist and it was hanging out by the front door. I considered trying to get the hell out of there, but it was guarding the door now, so I called reception for help. A maintenance guy showed up with a broom and attempted to remove the beast -- note that I didn't say "kill it with violence", but rather "remove" it, as apparently there are rules about killing GIANT FUCKING ARACHNIDS here. With much skill, he wrestled with the thing for a few minutes (it was a jumper, jesus christ), and he managed to coax it into a drinking glass and then take it outside.

I did some digging on the internetz to figure out what it was that clearly wanted to devour me in my hotel room, and it turns out that it was probably a crab spider. Its bite is venomous (and probably hurts and awful lot) but is non-lethal to humans. This doesn't make it any less scary though, and its brethren are all skittering about... just outside this hotel room. Honestly, I don't understand why anyone would want to visit a place that has beasts like this -- let alone live here.

For those interested, here's a picture of the creature in question, taken with my phone, from the far side of the room as I awaited rescue. Note the door hinge in the foreground for scale. The internetz tell me that these things grow to about 7cm in diameter, which sounds about right.

Once I was well showered, I headed over to the conference where I learnt some really cool stuff about how GitHub captures and logs front-end errors, as well as some pretty cool stuff about how we evaluate languages and frameworks.

...and now it's 0730 and we've got to get ready to head out to the conference again. But first, Stephanie has promised me that there's a good breakfast place nearby. I just have to keep an eye out for dragon bugs on our way there.

January 12, 2014 21:24 +0000  |  Canada Christina Greece Health Ripe NCC Travel 0

I started this year with a grand plan: travel out of country 12 times, once for each month in the year. It didn't quite work out that way, but I got close, so I guess I'll start this Great Big Annual Post with the sightseeing:

Travel

Copenhagen, Denmark

Following what would appear to be an unfortunate pattern, Christina and I went North in winter, and did a weekend in Copenhagen. We saw Cirque du Soleil, wandered around the city a bit and ate as many danishes as we possibly could.

Honestly, I'd go back just for the danishes. Maybe we will in 2014.

Photos from our trip can be found in my image gallery.

Brussels, Belgium

It was my first FOSDEM conference, and knowing basically nothing about it other than the fact that it was about Free software and didn't cost anything to attend, I booked a train and a hotel for the weekend. I had such an amazing time, I'm already booked to go back for this year's conference.

FOSDEM is a big deal in the Free software world, and it's probably the biggest conference of its kind in Europe. I met some of the developers of my favourite Linux distribution and bought one of them dinner. I got to publicly thank the GNOME developers for all of their hard work while they were battling a mountain of user backlash, and got some stickers, which was pretty awesome.

Gibraltar, UK

Stephanie loves to travel, and so do I, so when she's in the neighbourhood (ie. within a few hours flight) we usually try to meet up and go somewhere interesting. After much deliberation over Skype, (and some scoffing from Christina regarding our decided destination) we settled on Gibraltar... and it was awesome.

Incredible views from the top of the rock, fascinating military history, and beautiful caves. Oh, and did I mention the super-crafty monkeys? If you've got the time, and don't mind potentially getting stuck there an extra day when the plane refuses to come due to weather, Gibraltar is pretty amazing. If you don't feel like making the trip though, there are some photos in case you're curious.

Edinburgh, Scottland

At last, Christina was able to share her love of Edinburgh with me. She'd been going on about its fabulousness ever since we met, so it was time that I saw it with my own eyes.

Truth be told, Edinburgh is quite beautiful, with a diverse surrounding landscape influencing the local architecture. We hiked to the top of Arthur's Seat and the crags, saw a choral concert and toured the underground with a guide I'm reasonably confident was high at the time. Oh! and I also got to eat a deep fried Mars bar. Not at tasty as you might think. Ew.

Photos are on my image gallery if you're curious.

Warsaw, Kraków, and Auschwitz, Poland

I'd hoped to do more travelling into the old Eastern block countries this year, but unfortunately I was only able to visit Poland in 2013. Fortunately, since DjagoCon EU was based there, I managed to bookend the conference with some personal time and save on airfare in the process. Before settling down to the conference, I toured Warsaw and Kraków, and saw the remnants of the horrors of Auschwitz. I'm still deeply effected by what I saw there.

There's photos from my entire Poland trip in my image gallery if you'd like to see what I saw.

Athens & Santorini, Greece

This was apparently my Greek year. Christina and I visited in June: first Athens (Αθήνα), and then the Island of Santorini (Σαντορίνη). The weather was hot, but not beyond my capacity, due mostly to the dryness of the climate. The food was wonderful, and the people both friendly and accommodating. Christina's family took us to the Acropolis (Ακρόπολις), and the Temple of Poseidon (Aκρωτήριο Σούνιο). I also got to meet the extended family, and Eat All The Foodz. With the exception of one horrific boat ride from Santorini to Athens, the trip was wonderful.

Here are the pictures if you're into that.

London, UK

Theresa made the trip to her favourite city in the world, and we arranged it so I could meet her one weekend while she was in town. We didn't have a lot of time, but we got the important part in: actually seeing each other and catching up on what's going on in our lives. We toured a cemetery, wandered through Hyde Park, and spent an unfortunate amount of time looking for a good steak house.

It's funny, but every time I go to London my opinion of it changes. After some trips I despise it, and after others, I can actually see myself choosing to live there.

Athens, Greece (again)

I didn't expect it, but my company chose to send me back to Athens for RIPE 67, so that I could help out for a workshop about the RESTful API I helped write for our ATLAS project. It was an exhausting trip, that saw me rarely leave the hotel, but there were a few evenings that I managed to get out and explore. I took a few hours one evening to visit Plaka (Πλακα), met Christina's father for a tour through a local museum, and for dinner at their house, and on my last night in Athens, Vesna and I hit the beach with a couple of her friends, had dinner there, and then headed across town to the local hackerspace, closing the night with drinks at the foot of the Acropolis. That was a really good time.

Paris, France

Christina took a work-related trip to Paris, and I decided to surprise her for her trip home. We didn't have a lot of time for sightseeing (we'd already been a few times each, so this wasn't all that high a priority). We actually spent most of the night looking for a good place to eat and eventually found ourselves disappointed at a place I thought would be good. It's the thought that counts though right?

Vancouver, Canada

Finally, this was the year of Christina's first trip to Canada. We set off at the tail end of November to see Vancouver and Kelowna, and gauging her reaction, she seems to really like my country :-)

We met some of my friends, and most of my family, wandered through Stanley Park, and I ate as much food as I possibly could. Seriously, I nearly broke into tears biting into a proper cheeseburger (oh how I've missed those!) We drove over the Rockies up to Kelowna where we did a little sightseeing and a lot of just hanging with my family.

Photos from both Vancouver and Kelowna are available in my image gallery. Bonus: there's a shot in there of my fabulous Movember mo.

I'm hoping that 2014 will see us make a trip to Eastern Canada, maybe a road trip form St. John's to Toronto? We'll see.

Personal

Joined Houses

On the personal front, the big news of the year was Christina and I moving in together. This is only the second time that I've managed to get this far in a relationship, and the last time we sort of fell into it, after having moved from Vancouver to Ottawa. I'm hoping this time works out better.

Christmas in Amsterdam

Having a home of our own meant playing host to the Angelopoulos family over Christmas. Christina's sister is in the UK, her cousin in Belgium, and her parents in Athens. This made our place a logical destination for the big dinner shindig. Her parents were here for roughly two weeks, while her sister and cousin were crashing for only a few days. It was nice to have someone to spend Christmas with, given that my family was thousands of kilometres away, and I even learnt a few new Greek words in the process.

I also took a few pictures that week.

My Health

The big cloud over my life this year has been an as-yet-undefined illness that makes me dizzy at times throughout the day. I assumed that this all started after that horrible boat ride from Santorini, but it's impossible to tell at this point. Since August I've had regular dizziness spells, and even fainted once. It generally doesn't get in the way of my day, but it's still rather disturbing. My ENT assures me that there's nothing wrong with me, which is both encouraging and disheartening: a person knows when something isn't right, and when their doctor just smiles at you like you're wasting their time, it tends to get under your skin.

I've had blood tests, an ECG, and an MRI, all of which returned with "all clear" results, so I can see where Dr. Smiley is coming from, but the symptoms are real, so I don't know where to go from here. Christina and I talked about it and we're going to wait a few months to see if things get better on their own. If they don't I'll be asking for a referral to a dizziness clinic in the hopes that they can figure this out.

I'm also getting fatter, which obviously sucks. At 34 years old, I've never actually had to work at maintaining an appropriate weight, and the realisation of this new reality is not a happy experience. We did just move into a building with a gym though, and I've just started making use of it. Hopefully by this time next year I'll be able to report that I've lost about 10kg and holding comfortably.

This Blog

This was also the year of version 5 of this site's software going live, as well as another big milestone: 10 years of blogging. I don't post here as often as I used to (it takes a good chunk of your day let me tell you), but I do enjoy going back over this thing to see how my life has been, so this is a labour I intend to continue. Thank you, for sharing this with me :-)

Corporate

Started on Spirithunter (again)

You know those people who have a great idea, who tell you all about how amazing their idea is, and how one day this amazing idea will be amazing? Well I've been one of those guys now for three years. This past few months have seen a renewed interest in the Spirithunter project, what we me having an actual desk to write code on now, and I'm actually starting to see traction on that front. It'll still be a while before there's anything I can show you people, but I think it's worth noting that things are coming back on track now.

My Father's Project

I've also got another, much smaller project going to hopefully help my family out with a website for their own business. It's on a tight deadline though: I started on it not long after I returned from Canada in December, and it has to be finished and ready by February. I'm about 30% done at this point though, so it's time to knuckle down.

RIPE: 1year

Lastly, I hit my 1 year mark at RIPE back in August, and strangely, this is the first company I've worked for ever where I'm not already bored after 1 year. Sure, RIPE isn't perfect, and the code doesn't look anything like what I'd like it to, but the environment is interesting, the field actually important, and not evil. And they fly me to Athens and Warsaw to do work related stuff. Seriously, this is a pretty good gig. You should work there.

Conclusion

I started 2014 with a goal of more travel, and despite missing the quantitative mark, I look back on all the things I've seen and done this year and I'm pretty happy with it. For next year: even more travel, this time to more Eastern block countries like Romania and the Czech Republic would be nice, and a public beta of Spirithunter would make for a good grade. Keep checking back here to see how I do on that front.

July 07, 2013 21:51 +0100  |  Communism Economy Food Language Travel Urban Design 1

The Centre for Science and Culture
The Centre for Science and Culture
Warsaw's Old City
Warsaw's Old City
Kraków's St. Mary's Cathedral
Kraków's St. Mary's Cathedral
Kraków's Old Market
Kraków's Old Market
Shoes belonging to the victims of Auschwitz
Shoes belonging to the victims of Auschwitz

I went on two rather big trips over the past few months, and with the exception of my recounting of Auschwitz, I haven't written about either yet. I'll start with Poland, and if I have time tonight or tomorrow, I'll try to fit Greece in here too.

For 2013, DjangoCon was held in Warsaw, Poland, and for the first time in my life, I was working for company willing to fund the trip. I bookended the conference with a few vacation days, and squeaked out a little over a week of time to explore the most Eastern place in Europe I've been able to see so far.

Urban Landscape

To say Warsaw is beautiful would be a little too generous, but it's not nearly as ugly as I had expected. World War II saw nearly 85% of the city demolished, and then the Soviets took over, littering the landscape with those 60s/70s era square, concrete monstrosities. Like most things communist, the architecture is efficient, and ugly as hell. Despite this though, Warsaw has managed to renew itself in this post-communist era. Big people-friendly parks with fountains dot the landscape, surrounding the historical landmarks around the city. There's an epic building at the centre of everything called "The Centre for Science and Culture" -- a gift from the Soviets to the people of Warsaw. It's an interesting to comprehend the communist view of society: what was exalted, what was suppressed.

The suburbs of Warsaw are pretty depressing. The Soviet architecture is unrelenting, and unlike the core, there hasn't been a lot of money invested here. Wide roads with no sidewalks frame collections of square concrete towers entrenched in overgrown and unmanicured grass. Sidewalks, where they exist are cracked and unmaintained, and graffiti is everywhere. Still, while I don't paint a very pretty picture, the area I was in felt quite safe: playgrounds and families with children, people walking their dogs or just sitting enjoying the sound of kids playing. While it's immediately apparent that there isn't much money here, the people seem content, even happy.

Language

Polish is a rough language. I know I've bitched about Greek here, but let me tell you Polish is no picnic either. I managed to learn how to pronounce key words like "please", "thank you", "yes" and "no", but outside of that, I found it really difficult even to get the sound of the words to process in my brain. Thankfully, I had my phone doing a lot of the heavy lifting, using Google Translate like a boss everywhere I go. I even had it talk for me in a few tight situations. For the most part the older generation speaks no English at all, while the younger crowd, like people their age all over the world, is working hard at learning. Hollywood movies are subtitled and not dubbed as they are in Germany, which apparently helps out a lot. Still, if you're a unilingual anglophone like myself, having a semi-universal translator in your pocket is a really good idea if you're visiting here.

Culture

When the war ended and the Soviets occupied Poland, they offered to rebuild Warsaw's Old City but did so with a catch: they would rebuild the entire town, but not the Royal Castle. Not stupid, the Varsovians took the Soviets up on their offer, but rebuilt the castle after they were driven from Poland decades later. This Soviet policy of dismantling the monarchy in the hearts of minds of the Poles extended well beyond this offer, occupied Warsaw saw the Soviets deface national monuments everywhere, burning the crowns off of the Polish coat of Arms everywhere they could find it. Much like the castle, the crowns were re-attached after the Soviets left.

The monarchy wasn't the only thing the Soviets wanted to destroy and religion was high on their list, but even they weren't crazy enough to try to outlaw the church in Poland. Catholicism was, and still is, very strong in Poland, bolstered considerably by the actions of John Paul II, a Pole himself who is credited (at least in part) with the defeat of communism. There are still churches all over Warsaw and Kraków, and many of them display his likeness on the outside in paintings and sculpture.

One last note on the culture: from what I could tell, "socialism" here is an even dirtier word than it is in the US. The cab driver who took me home one night kept asking me questions about Canada (his English was pretty good) and toward the end he said something to the effect of "it must be nice to have such strong capitalism there". I tried to explain that many of us aspire to a more socialist state, but he seemed to think I was pulling his leg or something. It would seem that Poland's experience with communism has tainted the whole concept for a few generations.

Economy

Poland is one of the poorer European nations, still recovering from decades of occupation and neglect. The currency there is called the złoty (pronounced zlottee) and you can buy one for about $0.33CAD or €0.23. In real world terms, this means that a Twix chocolate bar will run you about $0.40CAD or €0.30. So long as you stay out of the tourist-targetted places (read: Hard Rock Café), you can easily get by on about €10/day.

My hostel was in the suburbs, one of those aforementioned concrete monstrosities that had been gutted and heavily renovated on the inside. My private room had a big comfortable bed, free wifi, a private bathroom and it was super-clean. I stayed there for 10days for about 1200zł or €278. This was so affordable that I just abandoned my hostel for one night and left for Kraków by high speed train (60zł) where I splurged on a 4star hotel for 232zł so I could visit Auschwitz. Honestly, if you're looking for a low-cost holiday in a country where the food is decent, and the history fascinating, Poland is the place.

Food

Apparently, Poland is the land of pierogis, so I sampled a bunch while I was in Warsaw. Honestly, I don't see the appeal, but they weren't terrible. I'd like to experiment with making them on my own sometime though. They're pretty simple, and might be more to my liking with some bacon and feta...

They also have this ridiculous ice cream (not my photo) there that, while saturated in sugar is really fun to eat. The soups all have a flavour similar to other Eastern European styles, and the diet in general is very "meat and potatoes" friendly. Generally, my stomach had a good time in Poland.

Conclusion

Poland is pretty awesome. It's the birthplace of both Marie Curie and Copernicus, the seat of Auschwitz and and archive of 20th century cold war history. If you've got t the opportunity, I recommend a visit.

Photos from the trip can be found in my image gallery

May 02, 2013 18:04 +0100  |  Travel 1

Arthur's Seat
Arthur's Seat
The Salisbury Crags
The Salisbury Crags
The Scottish Parliament
The Scottish Parliament
The Streets of Edinburgh
The Streets of Edinburgh

Christina is in love with Edinburgh. From the day we met, she's been gushing about the place, and so when we were mapping out where we were going to travel this Spring, Edinburgh floated to the top of the list. We decided to book our trip over Queen's Day, since that's a total nightmare in this country anyway, and ended up with four nights in Christina's favourite town.

It's hard to describe Edinburgh to someone who's never been there. The town is built on plot of land riddled with old volcanos, and over the centuries, the land has been twisted into a tiny mountain range. Some of the hills, like Arthur's Seat, are taller than the Eiffel Tower, and others, just a few storeys up. Regardless, "flat" is not a word you can safely associate with Edinburgh.

Now there are a lot of cities in the world that have managed to grow in such vertically diverse geography. San Francisco is a fine example, even Vancouver if you stretch the definition. But I've never seen a city adapt to hilly terrain like this place. Like many old cities, Edinburgh has, over the centuries, built on top of itself: hotels built upon hovels, bridges built over alleys. What's really fascinating in this case though is that in Edinburgh, the bridges have become streets. Go in the front door of a building on one street, go down a few flights of stairs, and come out on a totally different street. Edinburgh has become a city nested in amongst the hills. You have to see it to belive it.

We rented a beautiful apartment in a relatively central area, and spent most of our trip walking... everywhere. Criss-crossing the city, soaking up all the touristy stuff we could get our hands on. Christina had lived here for a year back in 2006, so she felt right at home directing us to the next stop on a Very Long List of next stops. We visited the old castle (worth the trip, though pretty pricey), Mary King's Close (so lame, but our tour guide may very well have been high for the duration), the Scottish Parliament (beautiful, and I learnt a lot about their electoral system & internal politics), and of course the Salisbury Crags & Arthur's Seat.

Those last two are the names of the epic hills at the centre of Edinburgh. Volcanic outcroppings created millions of years ago that have become a sort of central parkin Edinburgh... you know, if central park took three hours to climb and two to cross. I took some amazing photos from the summit and got some desperately needed exercise too. That girl is in so much better shape than I am.

We also found some time to see an evening show for a local cultural event, where there was traditional Scottish dancing, choral music, and a Gaelic band as well. Those first two weren't very good, the Gaelic group was really quite impressive. Fluent in both English and Gaelic, they introduced each set in both languages. A fascinating experience to say the least.

And that about rounds out the trip. Given Christina's love for the place, We're bound to return one day, and honestly, I wouldn't mind. It's a pretty town, full of friendly people... who understand what cheddar cheese should taste like. They also have deep fried Mars bars, which are gross by the way. Anyway, I've posted a full compilation of images up on Google+ if you're interested. If you like what you see, you should book a trip sometime.

January 29, 2013 12:58 +0000  |  Christina Travel 1

The "Golden Circle", Iceland
The Vimy Ridge Memorial
Melanie on the Millenium Bridge
The Millenium Bridge
Douglas Adams' resting place
Spider-man and @travellingjack in London!
A former church turned book store in Maastricht
The most delightful waffles I've ever had. These were in Luxembourg.
The cathedral in Cologne
My parents in the Sacre Cour
My parents at the Keukenhoff
Stonehenge
My new employer
Christina
Me and Violet

For a moment there, I thought that I might actually skip this one. We are, after all, 29 days into 2013 and I'm only now getting to the 2012 recap. I'd been putting it off, mostly because in my looking back over the year, I couldn't really remember much. This is to say that 2012 itself didn't feel all that memorable: what had I achieved this past year? How have I grown, and what did I learn in 2012?

The truth is that 2012 wasn't a year of epic change like 2011. Rather it was a year of "settling in" and getting comfortable with the life I have here. I'm not sure that that's actually a positive thing, but, there it is.

Objectively speaking though, 2012 has been pretty awesome for me in the three key areas of Personal, Professional, and Travel. It wasn't until I sat down and went over my year via G+ that I realised how busy I've been.

Travel

I always said that 2012 would be for travel in and around Europe. I didn't manage to do as much as I initially wanted, but then again, Europe is really big and there's a lot of things to see & do here.

The year started out early with a weekend trip to Bad Bentheim with my friend Hannah where we enjoyed a lovely train ride, a castle tour, and a fabulous steak. It's really not a very interesting town, but so far it was the best steak I've had in mainland Europe.

Lara's birthday was at the end of January, so I decided to hop a plane to York to say hello and see how life there was treating her. It's a lovely little town, and I was offered a tour through the older parts of the city. Her apartment was pretty cool too, though also in the literal sense, it was pretty damned cold :-)

March saw Christina and I visit Iceland thanks to some amazing discount rates from IcelandAir. I saw the Northern Lights you guys. It's really as awe-inspiring as people say it is.

Not long after Iceland, Hannah invited me to go for a drive to Cologne, which turned into a trip to Luxembourg when we were faced with the red-tape of driving a car in Germany. The trip took all day and most of the night, but we had a really good time just touring.

In April, my parents made the trip across the Atlantic and spent three weeks here: One week with me in Amsterdam, another in Barcelona without me, and the three of us spread the final week across Paris, London, and Dublin. It was quite the experience, intoducing my parents to the life I'd started to make for myself on the other side of the world. They were happy to see me adapting so well, and I hope they come back again soon.

In May, my friend Sue and I took a weekend trip to Cologne. The only reason I could come up with for going was that my father wanted a fridge magnet there, but when we arrived, Sue pointed out the Lindt Chocolate Factory, and suddenly our trip had new purpose.

In June, Melanie came to visit me and we spent a week in London & Belfast. We got a cab tour of the "Troubles" neighbourhoods in Belfast, ate steak in London, wandered through Highgate Cemetery, saw the Elgin Marbles (give them back!), a Shakesperean play at the Globe Theatre, and even chatted with a cosplay flash mob. It was a crazy week.

In July, I finally made time to visit The Vimy Ridge Memorial near Arras, France. Experiences like that help you come to terms with how insane war really is.

Apparently, a lack of travel in August made me a little stir-crazy, so I took two separate trips with Stephanie in September: one to Bristol & Bath, and another to Antwerp. The Antwerp trip turned out to be a bit of a bust, since the tour of the sewers we signed up for (so awesome!) turned out to be available only to Dutch-speakers, but the Bristol & Bath trip was nice. Bristol especially is a lovely little town that doesn't get nearly enough credit.

With the exception of my trip home for Christmas, the last trip of the year was a weekender in Hamburg, to meet Christina after she'd spent a week working in a special library for her PhD. We took the opportunity to sample some of the local Glu Wine, and visit the super-awesome Miniatur Wunderland! Also, I bought a hat :-)

It turns out that after actually sitting down and counting it all out, 2012 was a crazy travel year for me. I guess that the key for 2013 for me, will be to direct some of that travel energy to the East. DjangoCon is in Warsaw this year, I'd like to revisit Berlin, and maybe Zurich on a weekend trip. If my mom is interested, I'd also like to do Romania, but probably not this year. Christina and I are definitely planning a trip to Greece in the summer (gods help me), and hopefully a reciprocal trip to Toronto in the Fall. I'll be sure to post here when things are more solid.

Professional

This was kind of a big year for me professionally.

While working at Oxyor, I launched a major site that manages the learning experiences of thousands of users. The site features streaming two-way video communication, user groups, trading simulators, multiple themes and feature sets dictated by the domain, and a complete internal economy. I handled pretty much everything for the site, with the exception of the external trading simulators, and it was a massive undertaking. I learnt a lot, wrote a lot of reusable code that I'm proud of, and did so while often working with a team of 1: just me.

This process of working alone really got to me over time though. I felt like I was falling behind the curve, not learning anything new because there was no one from which to learn. After a while, I decided to start looking, and after a number of interviews with companies like Google (wow!) and big-time trading firms, I finally found my current employer, the RIPE NCC.

At RIPE I'm now working on an exciting project called Atlas, that's attempting to literally measure the effecitveness of the Internet's infrastructure. We're building tools to help the people that build networks actually build networks better and it's pretty exciting stuff. At the moment, I'm working to try to make the site more user-friendly and make the data accessible, so keep an eye on the site for changes if this is the sort of thing that turns your crank.

I think it's also worth noting here that this is the first time I've worked for a company that isn't a purely profit-driven organisation, and it feels really good. Non-profit work is different though, and I'm finding the internal politics often difficult to deal with. Compared to my previous work though: financial investment, advertising, porn, gambling, and spam, at least this is a product I'm happy to produce for the world.

I also gave my first official developers talk on How Not to Code, at the Utrecht Designers and Developers Meetup. As a first experience in this sort of thing, it was pretty awesome, and I've been thinking about maintaining a site (or just section of this site?) with a list of do's & don't's in this vein. At the very least it might help as therapy :-)

One last note on the "professional" front. I've been feeling very out of the loop wrt politics since I left Canada. It's hard to get involved in the politics of a country where you (a) don't speak the language, and (b) don't really care about most of the issues the locals face since you're not a permanent resident yourself. I tried joining the Dutch Pirates, but found the language barrier to be too much, and I've shown up to a few Amnesty International socials, but nothing has really "stuck" yet. I'm not sure where I need to go on this.

Personal

The big deal in my personal life this past year has been Christina. We got back together in January, and she has put up with me for an entire year, even after I dragged her to Iceland to trapse through the cold and dark. She has been so supportive and patient with me, as I try to manage my emotional handicap, ours has evolved into an actual adult relationship. It's not perfect, these things never are, but for the first time things actually feel "solid" in my life.

Another big part of that "solid"-ness is the fact that I started therapy this year. It started back in October and it's been really good for my own sense of self-understanding. Some days we just talk about the things that are making me crazy right now, and other days we go backward to figure out how who I was then affects who I am now.

To my friends who have been suggesting I go for years, thank you, it helped. To those who pushed for it: that didn't help so much. And to those who think that it might be right for you, I can't recommend it enough. You've got nothing to lose, and a whole lot to gain.

Family

2012 was also a big year for the Quinn family because we grew for the first time in a long while. My family (and extended family for that matter) has always been small, so when Violet was born, it was kind of a big deal for everyone. I managed to fly home to see her for Christmas which was pretty great, and one day I hope she'll be able to do the same for me, maybe come hang out at Uncle Dan's place for a week in Toronto, Zurich, or London... Time will tell.

And that was 2012. I got my head shunk, managed to keep a girl, and travelled all over the place (again). Also, the world didn't end, so that's pretty awesome. In the coming year, I hope to finally rebuild this site (it's been like this a long time and it's due), so keep checking back over the next month or so and you'll see.

April 06, 2012 23:16 +0100  |  Family Travel 1

So this post is a little late, but I did promise Noreen that I'd write something before the week is out. My parents came to visit last week, all the way from Kelowna, BC. It was wonderful to see them walk off that plane, and exciting to be able to show them the life I'm carving out for myself here. I lived in Ottawa and Toronto for about six years and with the exception of a brief visit from my father (and surrogate uncle) in my final year, I never really had the opportunity to share what my life outside of BC was like with my parents. This time however, the experience will be a little more thorough.

For the most part, their first experiences with the Netherlands was rather similar to my own: The instinctive aversion to the sound of Dutch, getting screwed by the NS (transit authority) payment system, and surprise at the low cost of food -- though my father did note that the Dutch appear to wrap every damn thing in plastic.

For tourist destinations, they mostly relied on me to point out the interesting sights in the city. Obviously, they wanted to visit the Red Light district (where my mom noted the absence of male prostitutes: "All I'm asking for is a little equality damnit"). At my suggestion, they checked out the Erotic Museum and giggled at some of the exhibits, and they also made a point of visiting somewhere-not-amsterdam. Since I live in Bussum, they decided to visit Utrecht, where they spent the day wandering through the old city and apparently marvelling at the soup in a cafe there.

They had the opportunity to meet and spend some time with Christina as well, which was prety neat. They all got along, and my parents were pretty impressed with her. I have a few nice pictures of Christina trying to explain my smartphone to my dad.

I suppose the other highlight for their trip was the Keukenhoff, a sort of Dutch Playland for flowers. Imagine walking for hours through gardens of sculpted flower beds: colours, and perfume pretty much everywhere. It's kind of a big deal here. Personally, it didn't do much for me, but my mom was pretty tickled :-)

Unfortunately, that week was mostly about them exploring the Netherlands on their own, since I had to do the day job thing. I wanted to ration my vacation across the year this time, so I only took one week off for their being here: this week. You see, after they left my apartment in Bussum on Monday, they went to Barcelona, and at this very moment I'm on a highspeed train to Paris where I'll be meeting them for some touristy goodness. We'll check out all the Paris stuff, take some pictures, and then head onto London, and eventually to Dublin. It'll be nice to get away from the day-to-day stuff and really do the vacation thing with my parents again. After all, the last time we did that... I think I was in high school.

Anyway, the entire visit is being catalogued online in pictures. If you're into that sort of thing, you can head on over to my G+ gallery.

August 26, 2010 21:03 +0100  |  The United States Travel 4

Central Park
Central Park is so pretty.
Bethesda Fountain
One of the more famous landmarks in Central Park: Bethesda Fountain.
The Alice in Wonderland statue in Central Park
The Alice in Wonderland statue in Central Park.
Times Square
Times Square is huge and riddled with billboards. This is a tiny part of it.
The United Nations
The United Nations
Peace
"Peace"
The Empire State Building
The Empire State Building as seen from 51st street.
Congress
Congress
Lincoln
The inscription above reads: "In this temple as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.
The Vietnam Memorial
The Vietnam Memorial
Congress peaking behind the Washington Monument
It does seem a shame that Lincoln's view of Congress is obscured by Washington's phallic monument.

I have committed the profoundly naïve: I attempted to see two major American cities in four days. Let it be said that while it's definitely possible, I don't recommend it -- especially if your feet aren't very cooperative. Here, on day four in my Washington DC hotel room, my feet are dangling off of the bed and are in considerable pain. The tiny blisters on my toes are a testament to my daring, as well as my ignorance concerning the task.

Now with that out of the way, here's a quick run-down of my various sights and experiences :-)

NYC

New York is BIG. I know that it looks rather tiny on the map, but trust me, it's massive. With 8 million people in the city alone and 20million in the surrounding area, New York is too big to really experience in two months let alone two days. Like most places worth seeing, I think that someone has to live there to really understand it. For my part, I was just happy to have a few days to take it in. For the majority of my trip (save for a quick ride on the Staten Island Ferry) I was Manhattan Guy, so everything that follows can only apply to that tiny island.

I'll start with the simple: navigation. Manhattan is a narrow sliver island with only a few major avenues running North/South and more than one hundred streets running East/West. As a result of this sort of layout, walking 3blocks East is roughly equivalent to walking ten blocks North anywhere on the island. People jaywalk like crazy there, right in front of cops in fact. I can only assume that it's totally legal there. Traffic is always rough, regardless of the time of day, and is in fact just like you see in the movies: about 90% cabs... except that they're not yellow, but rather a kind of nasty orange colour.

As for sightseeing, I went a little crazy. In the space of two days, I managed to visit every landmark in the city and see/do exactly what I wanted to, which in most cases was just see that place and try to understand what it must be like to walk in its shadow every day. I went to Central Park, which again, is well reflected in the movies. It's a massive park nested in the midst of millions of people crammed onto an island. And it's not a park as you might have come to expect in your own town, no Central Park has a giant pond, a carousel, a baseball park and dozens of quiet trails, bridges, trees, and creeks. It's the result of more than one hundred years of curating and management... it's amazing.

I also found time to visit the United Nations, Ground Zero, The Empire State Building, Rockefeller Center, Madison Square Gardens, Grand Central Station, and the studios for CBS & NBC as well as Ed McMahon's theater where David Letterman does his show now. As per Stephen's advice, I took the (free) Staten Island Ferry just long enough to get reasonably close to the Statue of Liberty, and I even found the LEGO store... how awesome is that?

Some interesting tidbits about New York:

  • The street food is amazing. There's nothing quite like lamb souvlaki on a pita at 11pm at the corner of Madison & 51st. I also tried both the bagels and the pretzels. Sadly, I was unimpressed on both fronts.
  • The city hums, but it doesn't seem to sit well with me. It could be the American flags everywhere, or the general lack-of-pleasantries common with Americans, but I didn't feel very comfortable there.
  • While cabbies are everywhere, they're not as crazy or chatty as the ones you see in movies. In my time there, I took 3 cabs: the first one was an old, Asian man, super-friendly, who'd been doing this for 23years. After all this time, his English was still pretty sketchy, but I appreciated his take on what it's like to do this kind of work for so long. The other two drivers however were like riding with a robot: little or no conversation, and very broken English when we did have to communicate.
  • Rockefeller Center has tables & chairs out front in the summer since it's obviously too cold for an ice rink.
  • The subway system isn't nearly as impressive as I was expecting. Obviously, I was only around for a couple days and only rode it twice, but I got the distinct impression that it was built for commuters rather than residents. Its cars are smaller than Toronto's, lacks helpful signage and doesn't service large portions of the island. Also, it smells like Toronto's subway system, which isn't a good or a bad thing, just an interesting curiosity.

Washington DC

After walking my feet off in NYC, I took a quick nap overnight and headed to Washington DC by train the next day. Let me just say that if the option is available, train is definitely the way to travel. Walk a few blocks to the station, wait less than a half hour to board, ride in comfort with free wifi and a power outlet for a few hours and then walk a few minutes to your hotel. It's cheaper, faster, cleaner, and far more comfortable. Also, the free wifi let me play Gowalla all the way from NYC to DC ;-)

Washington DC is a tiny town masquerading as a state within the larger state of Virginia. For the most part, the city appears to be a collection of government buildings peppered with statues and monuments all in the classical style. More than a few times I've found myself comparing DC to a modern Rome with all of the buildings still standing.

There's a pretty obvious racial divide here. While there's clearly a healthy mix of black & white in DC, a stroll through Union Station or down Pennsylvania Avenue will illustrate the imbalance. While I've seen a number of black people walking about with bluetooth headsets & blackberries, in two days here and I've not seen a single white person in a service-related job. It's as if the white population has "allowed" the blacks into the management sector, but somehow sees itself as "above" working at McDonald's or waiting tables. I've only been here two days though, so could be totally wrong on this one.

Like NYC, I went a bit crazy with the sightseeing here, and my feet may never forgive me. As soon as I arrived yesterday, I dumped my gear in my hotel room and started gallivanting. I visited the Library of Congress and did a quick tour through there, took some pictures at the Capitol, and then headed down to the National Archives, The Washington Monument, The Smithsonian, The WW2 Memorial, The Vietnam War Memorial, The Korean War Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial.

Yesterday's highlight though was without a doubt, the National Archives, where I actually saw the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States. The documents are ancient and faded, most of the text of which has been nearly erased with time. Regardless, it was rather inspiring to actually see it and read the words "We the People" knowing the reasoning behind those words. As Canadians, I think we often forget how different we are from the Americans: the Ideas that formed this country are very different from those that formed our own. Frankly, I think that even though we've been neighbours for all this time, there's still a lot we have to learn from each other on this front.

That night I gave my feet a nice hot bath and slept in today to recover before heading out to Arlington National Cemetery. Let me just tell you that no matter how big you think it is, no matter how strongly you might think it will affect you, you really can't prepare yourself for that place. There are over 350 000 people buried there, for each headstone, one life... and the stones go on, and on, and on, and on. Past presidents are buried here, including JFK, but I spent my time just trying to take in the acres of death. Over 200years have past since that place was founded, and nowadays they bury around 25 people as a daily average. It's a testament to patriotism and to the judgement of American leadership.

The last stop on my trip was to the White House, a palace surrounded by iron fences and concrete barricades. I took in the view from behind the distant gate, and didn't go for the tour (if there in fact was one). After Arlington, I wasn't really interested.

DC is an interesting town, with ancient classical buildings everywhere you look, and metal detectors in its food courts. It's the kind of place that everyone should visit at least once, but I don't think I'll be coming back.

So that's it for my trip. I had a really good time travelling, but will be glad to be back on Canadian soil tomorrow. America is scary, but that's a topic for another blog post some other time. I'll leave you with a link to my Gowallawalk map, a plotting of various places I've been, including all of the spots I visited on this trip.

June 25, 2010 21:12 +0100  |  Career Green Party My Future Politics Self Reflection Travel Why I'm Here Work [at] Play 9

I had a rather enlightening conversation with an Old Friend over lunch yesterday. John, a former co-worker at Work [at] Play and I meet for lunch every few months, mostly to catch up on each other's lives and talk about how things are going at my present employer. He's since moved on to be the COO at VirtualDoubloon but we got along so well, that I figured the friendship was worth the maintenance.

This time around, we didn't talk about my current employer so much as how my life was moving in general. I was on the verge of my 31st birthday and coming out of both a romantic relationship and a (thankfully unrelated) business co-founding partnership and "what's next" was the primary topic of discussion.

He asked about my political career, specifically whether I'd run in the next election, and I explained that I'd love to if the riding association in North Vancouver-Seymour is unable to find a candidate, but outside of that, every topic we hit on didn't produce any enthusiasm from me. The truth is, I haven't been motivated by much since I moved here. I've been unable to get excited about the activist scene, and frankly my job stopped being interesting over a year ago.

This line of thinking gets worse when I consider that about six months ago I was in the very same position I am now. I was re-evaluating my whole reasoning for being in Vancouver and was so desperate for something to hold me here that I jumped at the chance to start a company with a stranger -- which for the record is not a good idea :-)

Since our conversation though, I've come to realise that too many of my decisions in this life so far have been ones governed by how those actions might affect others. This isn't to say that I've been a terribly selfless person, rather that I've let my own happiness be hindered by whether or not decision x was a Right decision, or whether it would make people I love unhappy.

I'm not going to do that anymore.

This can mean a variety of things. I might take dance classes, or join a choir, or even take this job. I might move to Stockholm, Amsterdam, Berlin, or Seoul too... I'm not sure yet. I'm just done with letting my happiness be governed by externalities.

31years in... I guess it's better late than never.