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pjf (2464)

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I run Perl Training Australia [].

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)

Wednesday July 08, 2009
12:33 AM

Saudi Arabian Adventures - Days 3-5

[ #39251 ]

These events happened during my recent trip to Saudi Arabia.

Saudi Arabian Adventures - Days 3-4
On the third day of teaching my class swapped over to new students at lunchtime. Included in this group was Abdulaziz, who I had spoken to on the phone a few times, and who formally introduced me to the class on the first day. Abdulaziz spoke English with an American accent, and I was later to learn that he gone to college in America.

Lunch on the second last day Abdulaziz took me to the golf course. Saudi Aramco has a huge golf course, with beautifully kept grass, and is in stark contrast to the surrounding desert. Here they serve a variety of meals, cooked to order. Since it was the middle of a business day, nobody was actually playing golf.

There have been a few things that I've noticed over here. Business attire is very much traditional western or traditional Arabic, with both being very common. Teenage girls can be often seen wearing flowing black over-robes that were very Harry Potter-esque. Lawns and garden beds are covered with a huge number of very fine mist sprinklers, and they run during the day. These sorts of sprinklers are practically outlawed in Australia, with most states suffering from severe water shortages.

At the food hall, I learnt an important lesson. If I was asked if I wanted something to "take away", then that actually meant the food serving would feed a football team, and my answer to such questions should always be in the affirmative. The first time I foolishly said no, and found myself wondering what to do with the incredible amount of food in front of me.

Having wireless access in my room is a real blessing. I don't know where I'd get it otherwise.

Saudi Arabian Adventures - Day 5
Today was my second-last day of teaching, and Abdulaziz informed me that I needed to make sure the class finished early (3pm) as a meeting had been arranged between myself and management.

To make my day more interesting, we had a trainer who wanted to install software for her course next week. Her name was Tina, and her opening line was "Hi, you're a software developer, aren't you?" When I asked how she knew, she claimed "It's the look. You're all trendy, with long hair." That's the first time I've ever heard developers get called trendy, so I can only assume that I mis-heard.

At 3pm we finished early so that I could meet with EDMD management. For some reason, whenever anyone said "EDMD" I would hear "AD&D", my mind would fill with images of dungeon-crawling geologists in flowing black robes fighting an onslaught of umber hulks.

The meeting with management was made more interesting because I didn't have my Aramco ID, which meant Abdulaziz had to make a couple of bluff checks at the security checkpoints to get me through.

The meeting itself was very management-focused. What does Perl do, who uses it, what's its future, and so on? I honestly don't know how I fared with these questions, and in hindsight I fear my answers may have been a little too much on the technical side, but everyone seemed happy.

Afterwards I met Omar, who I had spoken to on the phone a number of times before my trip, but who wasn't enrolled in the course. Omar is a dual-classed geo/developer, and already knows Perl. It also rapidly became apparent that he was very open-source friendly. "We have a program that parses $horrible_file_format, and would like to bundle it into a module and release it to the CPAN. Is that something you can help with?"

That night, Fuad, Abdulaziz, Omar and Mohammed took me out to a traditional Arabic restaurant. The trip getting there was an adventure in itself. Saudi Arabia seemed to lack anything resembling road rules, or if they existed, they were ignored by most of the drivers on the road. Lane-changes happened at random, and cars would speed down the road at breakneck velocity. The primary form of communication between drivers was a brief flash of high-beams, which meant "I am going 40km/hr faster than you, and I'm not changing lanes. You should." This was in stark contrast to driving inside the Aramco campus, where everyone was slow, careful, and polite. Somehow, Omar drove through all this without breaking a sweat or losing his cool.

In the car we talked about content management systems, web technologies, AJAX, Catalyst, Jifty, PHP, package management and deployment, virtual worlds, and a variety of other FOSS-oriented technical subjects. This was good, as it distracted me from the traffic around us.

At the restaurant I was treated to Arabic coffee, which apparently is made from the unroasted beans, and is very good. It also rapidly became apparent that this was a restaurant/museum, with many historical photos and items on the upper floors. There was a large water feature in the middle of the building, and a large lantern feature. It was explained to me that these sorts of lanterns were traditionally lit and placed outside houses at the start of the month of Ramadan.

After a tour of the historical section, we were given quite a banquet of food, some items which I have had before (such as the dips), and some which I had not. One of the most memorable (and most tasty) dishes was a thick paste made of a variety of grains. This was eaten with a thin broth, and stuck to one's teeth almost immediately.

After dinner, and tea, and dates, and more talking, we drove back to the camp, with discussions mostly focusing around virtual worlds, 3D web interfaces, and tunnelling procedure calls from Second Life to Perl.

Sleep was an immediate priority when I returned to my room, as it had become quite late, and I was certain I'd need an extra cup of coffee to get me up in the morning.

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