One day I got a random invitation from Joshua Ballanco on Twitter. We had both given speeches at #inspect 2013. He gave a great talk about using the RubyMotion debugger. He asked if I would like to speak in Berlin and I said yes before I could think about it. It sounded like an adventure. So off to Berlin I went.
It took some planning. My sister Audrey and her boyfriend Chris would go with me to act as guides and to have a vacation of their own. When I used Expedia I spent over an hour getting everything right, and I had constant help. This time we opted for a human travel agent. My sister’s friend Mark of Liberty Travel helped us out. Things came together pretty well after that.
One unexpected thing did happen. Originally another European conference called EuRuKo would happen in the Ukraine, but they had to cancel it for obvious reasons. Because o this, the organizers of EuruCamp decided to combine the conferences. They asked the speakers if we would speak twice. I said yes. It would change the dynamic but I hoped it would make a positive difference. In some small way I could say I helped the situation.
The eight-hour flight went as well as it could have. The plane had an on-board system for watching movies. It didn’t have any accessibility of course, but Chris helped me select the Desolation of Smaug, and American Beauty. The two choices made an interesting contrast. Traveling east into the sun always feels weird. Your body knows that something unnatural has happened.
We finally arrived and met one of the organizers who drove us to the train station where we could go to the hotel. It overlooked a lake. The atmosphere felt pleasant. Audrey described the town as like a big version of Swarthmore that serves beer. We napped for a few hours, then I went to the speaker’s dinner. They had it at a nice outdoor restaurant. I had Caribbean style fried rice and vegetables. I didn’t realize, but Berlin and its suburbs have a very vegetarian-friendly attitude, the most in Europe according to some.
I came back to the hotel. The door had the weirdest lock. I can’t even fully explain it because I don’t fully understand it. You put a plastic card of sorts up to this little knob that turns. Touching the card to the knob makes it click, then you turn it and push on the door. The true knob that you would turn remains stationary. Very strange. At least I didn’t have to worry about anyone breaking in. “But the key wouldn’t open the door.”
I also took issue with the hotel’s crappy wifi. Germans have a reputation for technological excellence, but apparently this does not extend to this area. It only allowed two concurrent devices, and I quickly found out why. It went so slowly. I have never used such a horrible wifi. I hit send on an email, went to the bathroom, came back two minutes later, and it sent it right after I sat down. Terrible! I went to sleep longing for home.
I woke up in my living room chair. I felt the soft fabric, reveling in the sensation. I felt so happy in my home. But wait a minute. I didn’t remember flying back. And I hadn’t give my speech. How could I have gotten home?
Suddenly it all made sense. All of this happened in a dream, and I had just become lucid. I felt so excited. I called a friend on my iPhone and told them this happened in a dream. It amazed me that I could have this conversation. Eventually things faded and I woke up in my unfamiliar hotel bed. This gave the whole day a psychedelic twist. I wondered if we spent our whole lives like this – going through most of it unaware, but punctuated by sudden moments of lucidity.
My sister and her boyfriend brought me tea and a croissant. Registration for the conference didn’t start until later, so we had the day to have fun. We took the subway into Potsdam. We stayed in a small town near it called Griebnitzsee but I could never pronounce it. I called it “Grip-nip-zee” and that seemed close enough. I found it funny that the Germans complain if a train arrives more that two minutes late. Here in Philly we call that on-time!
We went to a historic palace with a park. They had a three dimensional model made out of metal. This really impressed me. I could feel the garden paths and towers. It also had German braille but it used different contractions than English braille so I couldn’t read it.
We enjoyed a snack at a cafe. I had a strawberry-rhubarb cake. The Germans enjoy good cakes in the afternoon. We concluded our visit with a trip to the gift shop. We purchased pieces of the Berlin wall encased in plastic. It has open sides so you can still feel it. It has writing which says “Checkpoint Charlie. You are now leaving the American sector.”
We stopped at a falafel stand on the way to the conference, then proceeded to register. They had the opening keynote outside on the front lawn. Again I enjoyed the outdoor venue. I ate my falafel and listened to the keynote given by Paolo Perrotta, the author of Metaprogramming for Ruby. He just released the second edition and I intend to read it. To become a great programmer, just keep learning.
Tech conferences always have parties. Normally I dread them because they often happen in loud confined bars. But once again they chose an outdoor bar for the party. This helped dissipate the noise. I nursed a beer and talked to some people. A guy recognized me from #inspect 2013 in Brussels. I met two people who know Alex Hillman, one of the founders of Indy Hall. They write software for managing coworking spaces called Cobot. Small world.
My sister went to get herself another beer. While in line she introduced herself to someone who said I would participate on a panel tomorrow. She didn’t know anything about it so thought she should bring him over. Of course I had totally forgotten as I promised I would. A guy named Ben asked me to join a panel about software design. So not only would I have to give my speech twice, I would also have to do this panel. I would have a very long day ahead of me, two days actually. Very long…
I woke up with a headache. That one beer did it. Eventually we got it together. Chris and I went to a local cafe. I had this fruit bowl kind of thing. It had a liquid grain on it. It didn’t taste sweet, instead I tasted the natural flavors of the fruit and grain. I really enjoyed it. I rested a little more to try to combat the jet lag. It sort of worked.
This conference had a mentor program. Every speaker got one to help them prepare. Mine named Jan suggested a demonstration of some of the apps I talked about. I liked the idea, but we didn’t know how to get my iPhone projecting. Nobody seemed to have a Lightning to HDMI cable, so we had to settle on using AirPlay. Jan asked me to download a piece of software called AirServer. I installed the demo unsure of what to expect.
The schedule said that the panel would happen at 05:00 PM and I would speak at 06:00 PM. They live streamed the entire event, and I heavily promoted my speech. I showed up at 04:40 PM and feel glad I did. They had changed the schedule at the last minute. Now I would speak an hour earlier at 05:00, in twenty minutes. This really pissed me off. I had just told friends and family to tune in, and done all the stupid time conversions in my head. Schedules exist so you will know when something will happen! “Didn’t you see the tweet?” Whatever.
While setting up I noticed a machine Named Eris. It belonged to Robert, the person in charge of the network. I asked if he meant it as a Discordian reference and to my delight he said yes. I have only met two other Discordians in my whole life face to face, we must stick apart after all. I felt glad knowing a fellow worshipper of the Goddess of primal chaos ran the network here. No one else could have done it!
I tried to get AirServer working but had never used the program before. Others tried to help and somehow we got working at the last minute, or so we thought. I began doing my speech. After talking about Color Identifier I tried AirServer. It completely failed. This threw me off and ruined my flow. I felt this way for the rest of the speech. I said we would try the demonstration of the end but I had to continue. I didn’t feel happy with my performance but others did so I tried to feel better. At the end we tried another demonstration but it did not go well. I tried to salvage what I could by making fun of Apple and AirPlay. “It just works, right?”
I felt so hot in my suit so went back to the hotel to change. They had perfect weather the whole time with temperatures in the 80s and low 90s with low humidity. The Germans complained about the humidity which made us laugh – try spending the summer in Philly! I put on something more casual since it didn’t seem to matter and came back to sit on the panel. My brain already felt fried but I tried to hold my own. I remember suggesting that when programming, if you find yourself making the same mistake to stop and examine why. For example if you keep typing the wrong name for a variable, ask yourself why you keep trying this wrong name. The mistake might lead you to a more logical way.
The first day of the conference had ended, thank Goddess. We went to a restaurant across the street from where we had breakfast. I had a great veggie pizza. It had corn on it. I didn’t feel like alcohol so had their version of non-alcoholic beer. It had a sweeter malty taste than beer. I came to enjoy it. We returned to the hotel as a tremendous thunderstorm began. Lightning flashed in the sky and I smelled ozone in the air. I tried to sleep. Normally I could relax after giving my speech, but not this time.
I woke up feeling very stressed out. We went to the cute cafe again. We decided to go kayaking on the lake. While signing up, they asked if we would like life vests. We found this funny. In America they would force you to watch a lame safety video, wear life vests, and probably sign something saying you wouldn’t sue them if you did something stupid. Not here. They led us to our canoe (they only had canoes for three people) and gave us our paddles. We spent over an hour going around the lake. It felt so peaceful. The rhythmic sound of the oars in the water relaxed me. It almost made me forget about the conference.
We made it back in time and I gave my speech again. It went better since I held the demonstration until the end. AirServer still crashed. On the schedule they had an event titled “Fishbowl” on the lawn. It turns out in this context it refers to a rotating discussion. I imagined something quite different and much funnier.
After that they had the closing remarks. They announced that they would not organize EuruCamp next year, and turned it over to the community. Don’t worry, volunteers have already emerged. I came up with a funny idea: let’s do it in Amsterdam and call it Hash.new!
I had to rest. I missed the party but didn’t feel too bad – I can’t do everything. It also seemed a little unusual that I didn’t see any of the other talks. I didn’t even know who won the race. Maybe nobody.
The next day we said good bye to Germany. We ate our final meal at the cute cafe. I had a croissant, tea, and a freshly squeezed juice of apple, carrot, and orange. They called it Mr. Orange. We made it to the airport without incident. On the flight I listened to the new Caustic Window album.
We avoided getting scammed by a cab (thanks Chris) and arrived at our new hotel. We went out for dinner. Everyone told me I just had to go to a cafe in Paris! We ended up at a chain, but we didn’t know that at the time. They didn’t even have any decent vegetarian food. I ate flavorless pasta and felt miserable. The city had too much noise. The Eiffel Tower lit up but I didn’t care because I couldn’t see it. I also drank some wine out of a small jug because hey why not? It’s Paris!
We got back and I checked my email. I received one from my bank, alerting me to fraudulent activity on my credit card. Earlier I had tried to use it to pay for my last night at the hotel and it didn’t work. Now the full impact of that occurred to me. Now I could not use my credit card. When I went to the bank’s web site to record the disputed charges, I found a form with unlabeled buttons. I felt depressed that once again a financial institution had clearly not considered accessibility. I cursed Paris, took a bath in the impossibly skinny tub, and went to bed.
I awoke to the sound of hammering.They nailed down carpet on the fourth floor. My sister had a migraine. I didn’t feel so hot myself. Eventually Chris and I went to a cafe. I had a good almond croissant, orange juice, water, and coffee.
They got some coffee, Eatin’ right through the cup
And when you go caca they make you stand up
Down in France
The food helped my head. A little later in the day I played the album Music has the Right to Children by Boards of Canada loudly near the window in an attempt to fend off the bad vibes. It also helped. Around 07:00 PM Audrey ordered room service, which she described as fancy airport food, coming in plastic containers and all. It seemed a little disappointing.
I needed a good meal. Chris found an Indian place online. I know that people don’t go to Paris for indian food, and that we could have found something more local and representative, but at this point I felt ragged and just wanted to eat something good. Paris presents a mobility nightmare. Streets go out from a center like spokes on a wheel.
Eventually Chris found the place. He said it looked dark. He saw a note in French which he figured meant “Closed from 08-04 through 08-06.” This happened on August 5. We felt defeated. We walked around for over an hour looking for options. A thai place didn’t even offer tofu with their curry. Other local places just had the same unexciting stuff.
Finally we walked in a big circle and ended up right by the hotel at Divino, an Italian place. I had a wonderful pizza with mozzarella, tomato sauce, sun dried tomatoes, mushrooms, olives, and arugula salad. They also gave me some spicy hot pepper olive oil. So good. I ate the whole thing in about 4.2 seconds. After that we went back to Audrey’s room and had macaroons that Chris bought. We especially liked the alt caramel and pistachio. We also had peach, strawberry, raspberry, orange blossom, and double chocolate. At least the day ended well.
I woke six hours later eager to get home. Chris and I ate some average food at the hotel then went to the airport. He said farewell. He and Audrey would continue their vacation. They have friends in England.
The staff at the airport treated me well. I got on the shuttle with everyone else. Suddenly an attendant came up to me and asked me to get off the bus. I felt a little nervous, but as it turned out they had an accessible bus waiting for me. I just relaxed and they drove right to the plane. Wonderful!
The flight went well. I met a nice stewardess named Dara then later another named Jennifer. I got two complimentary glasses of wine. I asked Dara for a beer. I pulled out my debit card and she said don’t worry about it. The man next to me only spoke french and Bulgarian. Still I somehow think he understood my good fortune. Meanwhile I watched the Big Lebowski and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. They made perfect choices!
I landed and they helped me with my baggage. Mom and I found each other and she drove me home. It took a week for my body to adjust to Philadelphia time. I had never traveled so far. I will never forget this amazing trip. By the way, I wrote the majority of this text at the Indy Hall Beach House.