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pjf (2464)

pjf
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I run Perl Training Australia [perltraining.com.au].

I help with Melbourne Perl Mongers.

I spend an awful lot of time talking about Perl, and have had my picture in the Australian newspapers with a camel. That's rather scary.

Journal of pjf (2464)

Tuesday July 29, 2008
09:58 PM

Memoirs of an OSCON rockstar, Day -2 (Getting there)

[ #37052 ]

Memoirs of an OSCON rockstar, Day -2 (Getting there)
OSCON is over, but for the next few days I'll be backblogging my experiences there. I'll finish with a grand summary, if you don't care about the details, wait until the end.

This year I went to my very first OSCON, in Portland, Oregon. I had always heard lots stories about OSCON, but being in America it's only very far away (I live in Australia), and the airfares are correspondingly very expensive.

This year, I thought I'd give it a shot. Knowing that being accepted as an OSCON speaker would be hard, I took a shotgun approach, and submitted a battery of talks for consideration. I was honoured, and very surprised, when the selection committee asked me to not only do a tutorial (3hrs), but two standard length talks (2 x 45min) as well!

The tutorial is of most importance here, since tutorial presenters are given a modest sum to offset their airfare. Without that, the cost of airfares from Australia would have me thinking twice. The talks were important because they expose me to a larger audience, and I measure my self-worth by the size of my audience.

The trip to OSCON itself was interesting. I decided that I would overcome jetlag before I arrived in Oregon. This meant no sleep the night before, and snoozing as soon as I boarded my 10am flight. As things turned out, my flight was delayed due to "weather" by more than six hours, not leaving until after four in the afternoon. That pushed back my sleeping time quite a bit. Sleeping in the airport wasn't really possible, mainly due to the constant announcements, and the fact that the flight wasn't pushed by six hours in one fell swoop, but was rather agnozingly moved back in bite-sized pieces.

However as the phrase goes, when one is handed lemons, one makes a lemon beverage. Due to the flight delay, all passengers who were paying attention ended up with a $30 "meal voucher". Since the bookstore accepts these, that was most of the payment needed for a 4GB SD card, which lets me pack a lot of entertainment into the palmtop computer I had borrowed from Jacinta.

In my sleep-deprived state I lacked the ability to do very much of technical value, so much of my time was spent exploring the terminal and making friends with the people at the coffee-shop, book-store, and airline staff. The airline staff had both ample meal vouchers and a lack of accountability, and the bookstore agreed to give me a minor discount, so by the time the plane had I arrived, I had accumulated more than $90 worth of goodies (at airport prices).

How did I get so many freebies, you may ask? I had people like me. The airline staff had to watch the gates, but they were bored. I'd offer to bring them coffee, chat with them, and generally be a nice guy. The delayed flight isn't their fault, but they're still the ones to put up with grumpy customers, so being a nice person goes a long way. In the bookstore I just smiled, and asked them about the vouchers, their business, and what options I had available.

Eventually, we got into the air. My original plan was to sleep according to the Portland timezone, wake up near the end of the flight, and work on my talks. However being so tired, and with the addition of an over-the-counter sleeping pill, I ended up sleeping practically the entire flight, waking only for meals. Since this was a 14 hour flight, and I was in economy, I was extremely thankful to be able to sleep through it.

Eventually, in Los Angeles, we touch down, and of course I've missed my connecting flight. I'm given details for a new flight that I've been moved to. I'm happy, the new flight is more direct, although due to the reschedule I have to pick up my bags, get my airline to give me a new ticket voucher, and check that in with my new connecting flight. Sounds easy, right?

Well, it would be, if it were not for the fact that a few hundred people were in the exact same situation as myself. Three hours of waiting in a queue later I've watched some episodes of BattleStar Galactica, made friends with some of the other passengers, and missed my connecting flight. I get yet another connecting flight, and proceed to check-in.

At this point I discover a few things are done differently in America. In any sizeable airport in Australia, when one checks in bags, they are weighed, and then sent on a conveyor belt to be screened and loaded. In America, one gets the weighed, stickers are attached, and then the passengers manually take them to the screening stations.

For anyone who hasn't figured it out yet, the obvious exploit here is to bring an underweight bag, have it weighed, and then pack it full of extra things (such that it would be overweight) before handing it to screening.

The other thing I discover is that flying domestic within the USA comes with much more thorough security checks than flying internationally to the USA. I have to take off my shoes, show my boarding pass, show my passport, and (because I'm special) be frisked down and have the contents of my carry-on baggage unpacked and tested half-a-dozen times for explosives. The security guard doing the extended screening was nice, though. We shared travel stories, swapped a few jokes, and he complimented me on my taste in shirts.

Eventually, eventually, I arrive in Portland. My original itinerary had me touching down in the early afternoon, but with all the delays it's now quite late at night. I catch the light-rail to my hotel. The Portland light-rail rocks. It costs me $2 to go from the airport to my hotel, and that allows me to take my bike (if I had one).

Compared to Australia, hotels in Portland are very affordable. I'd elected for what was essentially the cheapest hotel I could find, figuring that any time I actually spend awake in my room is wasted. The hotel ended up being much nicer than I thought it would be, and included free wireless internet access. As I would discover, practically the whole of Portland has free wireless. There's also some thing called a "Mr Coffee" and "Non-dairy creamer (contains milk)". However in my exhausted state, I figure I'll work them out in the morning.

After what was close to 30 hours of travelling, I finally sleep in a real bed. End of day -2.

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  • The best part is that not all US airports handle bags the same way. Buffalo still does it the old way where you check your bag and they take it. Portland does the check your bag, then take it over to the security station. Given that all the security stuff was back-fitted into existing airports, I'm sure they are all doing their best, but it can be very confusing.