Saturday, September 6, 2008

FUDCon Brno 2008

I haven't posted anything since I got to Europe. Why? Well, Internet access has been harder than I thought it would be. And phone access.

I arrived in Vienna on Tuesday, September 2. I left Sunday night from Honolulu, so it was almost 24 hours of travel. I knew this would exhaust me, so I wanted to get to the hotel and try to nap.

Vienna is very easy to navigate. The map I purchased at Borders before leaving didn't really help that much because the grid quadrant I was staying in wasn't on the map I had bought. You could visualize the roads extending past the end of the map, and that's how I figured out where to go, but otherwise it wasn't a helpful map.

The hotel in Vienna was nice as well. It advertised free Internet access in all rooms....EXCEPT the part of the building I was staying in. Great. I asked the front desk if there was a public area with wifi and was told no. They suggested I try the cafe at the end of the block, but when I went there, they told me they didn't have Internet access and were surprised the hotel sent me there. I tried 3 other cafes before calling it a night.

I was not planning on getting a SIM card for my phone in Austria because that would cost more to use in Brno once I got there. My plan was to email home from Vienna and get a SIM card in Brno. Seems doable, right? Wrong.

The lack of Internet also posed problems because I was planning on finding the train station on Google Maps. I was also planning on emailing the office in Brno so they would meet me at the train station. All of this was fail. Once again, I depended on the Internet and was let down.

I woke up on September 3rd, packed up, checked out of the hotel, and then headed to the train station. It ended up being easier to find than I thought. I took the U4 line to a station that had the word Bahnhoff in it, exited, and followed the signs to the words that matched what was printed on my ticket. There was a bit of a mixup with the signs. Apparently the area around the train station is under construction and all signs were gone once I got to the surface. I walked around trying to find the entrance for almost an hour. Eventually made it.

At the station, I got some water and tried to find wifi. Fail. I found phone booths that would take credit cards, so I called home. I talked to Karen for a while, which was nice, and asked her to contact the Brno office so they knew I was coming. This was the first time I was able to call home since I had left.

The train left shortly after that. I found my car and seat and slept most of way. I bought a Pepsi on the train (it came in an actual glass bottle). Once we crossed the Austria-Czech border, a new guy came on to restamp your ticket. There were a few stops before Brno.

I got to the Brno station and started looking for who was meeting me. I realized I didn't have a clue what anyone in the Brno office looked like. After a half hour, I called home again and Karen said that they replied to her and were on their way, but would be 20 minutes late. They thought I was arriving on Thursday. Not a big deal. Got to the office and then Radek took me to where I was staying for that night.

The day I traveled from Vienna to Brno was when the jet lag really hit me. The entire day I was battling a headache. Finally around 5pm I got really hungry and proceeded to find some food. The Czech language is more or less impossible for an American speaker to grasp. I was doing ok in Austria, but Czech is a different animal. That, combined with the fact that fewer people understand basic English in the Czech Republic compared to Austria. That's not really their fault, I mean, I should be speaking the local language. However, no time for that, I wanted to find dinner.

The lady at the hotel told me to walk 300 meters down the road to a yellow building. Good enough for me. I walked down the road and found the building. It was even marked with a sort of international food icon (circle with a fork and spoon in it). Strange. However, this was fail because it was closed. Exhausted, starving, wanting to call home, and generally feeling not well, I looked in all directions to where I was standing. Nothing. I walked around the corner and saw what looked like a house, but was really a restaurant. I went there and fumbled through the menu and was able to order spaghetti and meat balls and Nestea. The total was 179 Kč. After that I went back to the hotel and fell asleep. At 9pm, two other Fedora guys showed up who were also staying in this room and were banging on the door for me to let them in. They couldn't believe I was asleep, but I explained where I flew from and they understood. I think they left and locked me in the room, but I didn't care. Too tired.

The next day I was fine. Got to the office and did some work for the day and then met up with more Fedora people and we went out for drinks and dinner. Dinner was good, but paying for it was made more difficult because of some people we were with. We had a large party and I was ok with just dividing the check evenly. However, some people only wanted to pay for their share. The waiter walked around both tables and recalculated individual checks by hand for everyone and each person paid. Amazing.

FUDCon is going well. There are some posts from people here appearing on There's also a Flickr group where people are posting pictures they are taking. I am giving a talk at 14:20, so I have some time.

I have not obtained a SIM card for my phone in Brno because I haven't been successful finding a vendor (that is, fail). At this point I don't know if I'll bother. Though it really is annoying not being able to call home.

Some things about Brno that I have to point out. Some of these overlap with Chris' discoveries.
  • The company no longer has the apartment in Brno, so got to stay in two different hotels in Brno. Coming from the US, hotels here are very different. Things you take for granted in a US hotel just aren't present here. For example, a TV, a phone, or even a comfortable bed. Beds are the size of coffee tables and have a rock hard mattress. You get one towel per bed, but the towel is like the size of a large dish towel. Most of the Europeans who came here from other countries brought their own towel. Noted for future trips.
  • Bathrooms are strange here. A lot of places will have a single door in to a WC and inside there is a sink or two and then two different doors for men and women facilities. So, they share a sink setup, but have different toilets.
  • Bathrooms in the hotel are different. The toilet has its own room. The sink and shower has a different room. Both have doors that lock.
  • Hotel rooms have actual real keys instead of plastic magstripe keycards. There's also one key per room, so if you are sharing with someone, you need to work out the key protocol.
  • You don't take the key with you when you leave the hotel. It's the same in Austria. You give your key to the front desk and when you come back, you just tell them your room and get your key. They don't want to lose the keys, which I guess are expensive or they don't want to force you to carry them around.
  • As I discovered on my London and Brussels trip, light switches are backwards and doors open the wrong way. Hot and cold are swapped in some places.
Public transit in Brno and Vienna is useful and understandable. The names of locations in Brno is more difficult for me, but I am slowly getting the hang of it.

The currency in the Czech Republic is also more difficult to get used to. First, there are no fractional amounts. The smallest is 1 Kč (one crown). Typical prices for things are 15 Kč for a 60 minute tram pass, 30 Kč for a beer, and 150 Kč for something for dinner. The currency comes in the following coins: 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50. It also comes in the following notes: 50, 100, 200, 500, 1000. The thing I'm having to get used to is the large amounts. I go somewhere and spend hundreds of crowns and it's just bizarre.

I am giving a talk at FUDCon today on anaconda. It got a lot of interest, so I hope I can make it interesting. I have met a lot of people here who I have talked to a lot online. A lot of the guys in the Brno office have met me now, which is good.

FUDCon is run in a barcamp format. That just means that any attendee can pitch a session. If there's enough interest, you get to give that session. Anyone can pitch any idea, but since we are all here for the same purpose, the topics are usually related to Fedora and software development.

While we were pitching the sessions for the barcamp, I suggested to Martin (on anaconda team, here in the Brno office) that he pitch a session idea on rudimentary Czech language skills. That idea got a round of applause and a lot of interest. Should be fun.

Time for lunch.

No comments: