Dave’s diary

Training sessions at GNOME.Asia 2014

Phew! Back from GNOME.Asia, and it is time to blog about the training sessions that Kat and I (and Andre!) gave on day 0 of the conference. I submitted two proposals for talks, one targeted at new GTK+/GNOME developers and the other at those who are more experienced. To my pleasant surprise, both proposals were accepted, and eventually the conference organisers convinced me that the newcomer presentation would be better if conducted as a workshop. Kat also had a similar experience, and so we both went to Beijing with 2 talks to write (hmm, wait, I mean that we had 2 talks ready to go by the time that we arrived)!

The trip to Beijing was relatively uneventful, and it was pleasant to be able to fly from our local airport, via Amsterdam and then to Beijing. We had the pleasure of sharing the cabin with 5 screaming children, who decided to take turns with screaming duty. Luckily, I am now mostly immune to such things due to the dulcet tones of Robian and Marlow. After touching down, we took the express train from the airport to the city, and I was groggy enough to leave my backpack on board. Luckily, we realised just after the train had left, and asked at a ticket office for help. The same train was due back at the station any minute, and sure enough Kat was able to jump on, grab the backpack and hop off again.

Arriving at the hotel, it was a bit of a challenge to communicate about the conference which we would be attending, but with some fantastic local help from Emily Chen, we were able to check in. The room was fine, and eventually we found a patch cable so that we could take advantage of the wired Internet access. I cursed the fact that my work laptop does not have an Ethernet port, and used my personal laptop instead. Then, I cursed that the Great Firewall was making it difficult to check Feedly, but realised that this was probably a good thing. We had dinner at a tasty local noodle place, after finding an Andre.

It is a bit difficult to plan a training session when the skill level of the audience is an unknown quantity, especially with the twin barriers of language and culture getting in the way. Luckily, I went into the talk knowing that many of the participants had used Python, and so I was armed with slides full of Python examples, and a git repository to back them. After a delayed start, where I took the opportunity to ask that the participants downloaded the slides and cloned the git repository, we kicked off by checking that everyone met the prerequisites that we had asked for (an up-to-date GNOME 3 installation). Only one person was unable to get this done before the session, which was a good result, I think.

I delivered the session by building up a very simple GTK+ application in steps, with links to online materials in the slides. Using Python made this experience quite interactive, as it was easy for people to play with the code and not have to worry about building binaries. I walked through some GtkApplication concepts, and covered enough to get an application with actions, accelerators and an app menu. This turned out to be pretty much exactly the right amount of material to cover in a 90-minute session, as there were some inevitable wrinkles. I tried to make sure that everyone could keep up, although with a large group of diverse abilities this can be difficult. I rushed through some basic build system and packaging topics at the end, more to give people a feel for the concepts rather than to explain them in depth.

After that, it was time for a tea break before launching into Kat's session about contributing to GNOME documentation. This was a session where I was not sitting at the front of the room and presenting, but got stuck in early with helping people. Although I was presenting during my training session, I found this session much more enjoyable, because my task was to assist participants rather than to lecture them. We overran the session by a fair bit, and I think this was a great indicator of the dedication of the participants. With patches on Bugzilla and awaiting review, we finished up and headed out to the welcome party.

Thanks to the GNOME Foundation for sponsoring my travel and accommodation, and to Red Hat for sponsoring my time at the conference.

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Developer Experience Hackfest 2014

Berlin was a great venue for a fun and productive hackfest. Even better than that, we got to catch up with many old friends. It was great to see Chris again, and he was instrumental in getting his company Endocode to let us use their office for the hackfest. We had tea, coffee and plenty of space to hack (some people even had Club Mate).

On Wednesday morning, Kat and I arrived early and got straight in to looking at a documentation TODO list. Other people soon arrived, and we started discussing plans and splitting into rough groups based on our objectives for the remainder of the hackfest. For most of the day, Kat and I were working on improving the platform overview, found in gnome-devel-docs, which was somewhat unfinished from when we last hacked on it.

On Thursday, we chatted to Allan about what restructuring of developer.gnome.org was possible to clean it up in a reasonable timeframe. We found that quite a bit was doable without major changes to library-web, and that moving things around and flattening the hierarchy would help a lot and be quite simple in terms of implementation. We were slightly unsure about where we should put the HowDoI content that Ryan has been spearheading, but decided that it could live in a "guides" section for the moment. After the discussion, we continued with platform overview changes.

Friday was spent finishing up, and with an interesting diversion into the land of gnome-common with Philip Withnall. We came up with several plans to deprecate most of the M4 macros, and generally make gnome-common something smaller. Fred ran some searches over all of GNOME git, and it seems that the CXX warning macros will be the first target, and my plan is to wrap them in a generic warning macro that takes account of the currently-set language in the configure script.

A further interesting diversion was discussion about using upstream gettext rather than intltool. With this change, it would also be possible to finally deprecate AM_GLIB_GNU_GETTEXT. We are just waiting on a new release of gettext now, as Daiki Ueno has been making excellent progress on supporting desktop files and GSettings schemas directly.

All the progress so far is in wip/ branches on git.gnome.org, in the gnome-devel-docs module, and should be merged pretty soon.

Thanks to Alberto and Allan (and Chris!) for organising the hackfest. Thanks to the GNOME Foundation for sponsoring my travel and accommodation, and to Red Hat for sponsoring my time at the conference.

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GUADEC 2013: conference

GUADEC there has been great, especially the rather circuitous route that we took to get here. Our long journey started last Friday, when we left for a flight from Stansted to Berlin. We took the opportunity to visit some friends in Berlin. We had lived there for three years before moving back to the UK, so there were lots of memories to catch up on. It was wonderful to see so many old friends, enjoy the city and generally relax for a couple of days. On Sunday night/Monday morning we caught a with Michael bus from Berlin to Prague to visit another old friend: the inimitable Andre. We apent a day-and-a-half in the city, and got caught it a downpour that caused us to drink several White Russians while waiting for the rain to stop. Another bus ride followed, and it took us about 2 hours and 30 minutes to get to Brno. After a slight tram detour, we managed to reach the dormitory where we were staying and drop off our luggage. After bumping into Karen, we headed out for dinner and drinks to an unassuming place in a park not far from The Green Cat. It was a refreshing change to have some wheat beer, and it was the start of a long exploration of all the possible types of dumplings served in the Czech Republic.

curve dimples queueing

The next day, I helped the board into the Red Hat offices with the aid of an access card, as every other employee has forgotten to bring their cards with them! I sat in a spare space in the new office, and hacked for most of the day. We picked up our conference badges in the evening, and met lots of people who were doing the same. There were snacks and beer, but Kat got me a sandwich so I stopped saying how hungry I was.

Thursday was the conference proper, and I had a full schedule of session chairing for the day. We started with an introduction by Karen, followed by a keynote from Ethan Lee, the porter of many Humble Bundle games to Linux. Ethan had some quite critical things to say about GNOME, but it was also very interesting to hear the challenges he had faced in the process of porting several games to Linux. After the break, I had the pleasure to introduce Allan with his talk on the future of GNOME 3, followed by Kat’s talk on becoming a long-term contributor. Lunch was held in a canteen with the worst acoustics that I have ever heard, such that I had to leave as soon as I finished eating so as not to get a headache from the noise. After lunch I chaired a further four talks, including Lennart’s sandboxing talk, which was full to bursting. After the talks had finished, we dropped our bags off at the dormitory and then headed to Fleda for the first party. Having been there earlier this year, it was good to go again, but a shame that a tribute band was not performing this time!

The second conference day began with Matt Dalio’s inspiring but weak keynote on Endless Mobile. For the remainder of the day, I chaired sessions in the “GTK+ track”. It was good to see the outlook from both Emmanuele’s and Benjamin’s perspective in their respective talks, and I especially enjoyed Matthias’ application development tutorial. Tristan was, as ever, great to watch, especially with the knowledge that through a series of unfortunate events he was rather jetlagged! We rounded off the day be attending the GNOME Foundation AGM. Once this was over, we sauntered along to The Three Monkeys for some excellent steak and tasty beer, before heading back to the dormitory relatively early.

For the third conference day, I decided to take a little break from session chairing, and so I had a bit more flexibility to choose which talks to attend. The board Q&A session in the morning was dominated by the question on everyone’s mind (and apparently only on the lips of a select few): where is GNOME going? I skipped the next couple of talks, electing to hack for a bit. After lunch, I attended Bruno Cardoso Lopes’ talk on the Clang static analyser (among other topics), followed by Kat’s talk on the current state of the GNOME documentation project. After the break it was fun to Zeeshan put on a Swedish accent for his GNOME Maps talk, and Andrea and Sri gave an insight into the infrastructure that keeps GNOME running. I was first on the schedule for lightning talk, and would like to thank Michael for his introduction! We dropped our bags off at the dormitory after the talks, and headed to the party at the Starobrno Brewery, where I had plenty of tasty goulash, and some pretty nice beer too. We had fun discussions over dinner, and it was especially good to chat to Lionel again. The trams had stopped running by the time we finished, so we caught a taxi back to the dormitory. Kat even managed to order another taxi for the other people in our group!

andreas in the shadows basement tubes

During the final conference day I was back on session chairing duty, and in the morning I introduced Alejandro and Joanmarie for their talk on PDF structure and accessibility. Next up, it was interesting to see Anish and Mike talk about and demostrate predictive input methods. After another heavy and filling lunch, Martin Robinson gave an excellent overview of WebKit2 and how it fits in with WebKitGTK+. Finally, an unscheduled talk by Robert Bragg on his UI design tool RIG closed the conference talks. The intern’s lightning talks followed, and it was great to see them all in one place, discussing their past and future work on GNOME.

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Open Help 2013: hackfests

After the weekend of presentations and informal discussion, it was time to knuckle down and start hacking. We looked at the existing platform overview, the new platform overview that Federico had been working on since the developer experience hackfest earlier in the year and tried to reconcile that with the existing reference documentation and platform demos and tutorials. In the end, we decided to go in a few different directions, because people had different target groups in mind when writing documentation. Ryan worked on a “how do I?” series to be hosted at the GNOME wiki, and kicked it off for his favourite things: GAction, GtkApplication and some associated machinery. He explicitly wanted the documentation to be outside the API references, and hopes to encourage other GNOME developers to contribute, so please join in!

I spent much of my time as general tech support, which was useful when considering that there were 3 laptop failures during the hackfest. Mike managed to lose his bootloader, Gord suffered display corruption and Shaun's hard disk gave up on life. Luckily, Ryan had a spare ThinkPad with him so that Shaun could rescue a few things and continue. I picked up a Chromebook Pixel, generously donated to the GNOME Foundation by Intel, while at the conference and let Gord borrow it so that he could apply his existing knowledge of JavaScript to a gjs “hello world” example. I was able to help Mike backup his /home and then repartition and install. After several failed attempts to get a working bootloader, I zeroed out the first 100 MB of the boot device, reinstalled and all was well.

In terms of hacking, I helped guide the user-focused documentation authors into writing developer-oriented documentation, in the form of the new platform overview. It worked moderately well, and reviewing the content afterwards helped push things in the right direction. It was fun helping Gord and Kat with a gjs example, and this should appear prominently in the new platform overview soon. I helped Radina to write about adding Mallard help to a project using yelp-tools, which is straightforward, but rather obscure without some surrounding explanation. Mike was in need of a bit of help with how to add internationalization support to an application, and I assisted with the technical bits of that (as I had found myself explaining the same topic on IRC the week before). I also did the usual amount of git tutoring and miscellaneous help which is often required at hackfests. I only wish that we had an extra day of hackfests, as the problems that cropped up had an impact on productivity. Oh well, roll on the next documentation hackfest!

Outside of the hackfests, we had an educational evening on Monday night when we were introduced to several varieties of bourbon and whisky by Molly Wellman at Japps’s. Being somewhat of a Scotch whisky drinker, it was interesting to see, smell and taste what the US had to offer. I was intrigued by the Oyo unaged rye whiskey, which had an overpowering rye flavour. Kat was not quite as fond of it, but she enjoyed the Maker’s 46. After the tasting, we walked to the river, past the baseball stadium and across the Purple People Bridge to Newport on the Levee. We were now in Kentucky! Ryan dragged us all to Dixie Chili so that we could experience six-way chili. We were not disappointed, and while I abstained, Kat told me that lots of garlic in chili was a very tasty thing. On Tuesday night Ryan ordered takeaway pizza to our hotel suite, and we had somewhat of a pizza and ale evening. We each sampled the 7 ales that Kat and I had brought from the UK, and I was surprised that ale from a brewery local to us was available in Canada! The pizza was good too, although it defeated us and we had to finish the leftovers the following day. On our final night in the US we had dinner in a kiln at the Rookwood restaurant atop Mount Adams. Nearly all of us opted for steak, and the chips with truffle oil were a great accompaniment. Ryan has a very chewy cut, but he got a replacement that was fine, and the rest of us got extra chips!

fifth third bank whiskey tasting

On our final day, we took a trip to the Aquarius Star café, which had provided the lunch for the two conference days. They had a good range of teas, but Kat and I were most interested in the chai lattés, and they did not disappoint! We did a little bit of lazy hacking, and Mike and Gord gave us a lift to the airport for our flight to Newark. The flight there was straightforward, and the onward flight to London was mostly fine too. Unfortunately, there was only about 90 minutes of the flight when the lighting was dimmed, in between the dinner, drinks and breakfast snacks. When we arrived in the UK we were rather ragged, but managed to survive rush hour and make it to Liverpool Street. As we were so tired, we got an earlier train to Norwich and got home at about 11:00. Having struggled with the flight back, we managed to keep ourselves awake until the usual time, and brushed off jetlag as usual.

Thanks to the GNOME Foundation for sponsoring my travel and accommodation, and to Red Hat for sponsoring my time at the conference. Many thanks to Shaun for putting on a fantastic conference and being a wonderful host.

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Open Help 2013: conference

I was fortunate to be able to attend the third Open Help conference and hackfests in Cincinnati last week. It is a bit of a trek for us, but turned out to be well worth it.

The journey started well, albeit rather early, and we arrived at Heathrow Airport on time. Our flight to Newark was delayed, so we bought some breakfast and waited. Kat was disappointed that there was no cheap junk food available in Terminal 4, and that we had to instead settle for a sandwich.

The flight over the Atlantic was uneventful, but dropping through the cloudline into Newark Airport was pretty turbulent. We picked up our luggage and had to wait a bit to get through border control. Luckily, the officer who let us in did not mind us bringing 7 bottles of fine English ale to the country. “Do you not like our beer?” he said. “It’s for my Canadian friends!” I replied, and we were waved through. We had further delays to our flight from Newark to Cincinnati, and almost missed it because we had two identical boarding passes for me and none for Kat. We finally arrived in Cincinnati at 20:30, dropped off our stuff at the hotel and heading to the excellent Via Vite for the conference reception. It was great to meet all the usual GNOME documentation people, as well as many new faces. After lots of pizza (and the odd dessert) we headed back to the hotel.

The first day got off to a good start, with bacon, sausages and scrambled egg for breakfast. As well as the usual coffee, there was a nice selection of tea. We helped Shaun with a final few bits of preparation and then sat down and grabbed our awesome swag (backpacks, notebooks and mugs!). After a short introduction by Shaun, Jorge Castro launched into a talk about StackExchange and how it is used to power Ask Ubuntu. He discussed the extensive gamification and how they encouraged users to continue participating. Next up was Michael Verdi to talk about how Mozilla used web analytics to guide documentation efforts for localizable wiki documentation. Most interesting were the analyses of seemingly small changes and how they affected navigation and user satisfaction. A panel discussion was next, which brought together proponents of wikis, forums, books and StackExchange-type websites together to discuss the current trends in documentation and user support. We had a break for lunch, and headed outside to eat tasty wraps in Piatt Park, made by the lovely ladies from Aquarius Star. They also made a really tasty lemonade, and an unsweetened ice tea. The weather was excellent, but it was good to get back inside after lunch and listen to Rich Bowen talking about his experiences as a long-time Apache documentation contributor, and how he was getting on in his new job at Red Hat working on OpenStack documentation. After the talk, we spent the remainder of the afternoon discussing and having small hacking sessions. For dinner, we went to Skyline Chili, which was a (for me) unique 5-way chili experience. We headed to Graeters for some really yummy ice cream and then headed back to the hotel.

For the second conference day, we had another good breakfast, suuplemented by some leftover wraps from the Monday lunch. Lee Hunter presented a talk about Drupal as a CMS for technical communicators, and then led into the demo session, where he gave an overview of new editing features in the latest version of Drupal. Shaun gave a demo of the translated videos in gnome-getting-started-docs, which was well received. There were two demos of Wikipedia projects to improve help pages and aid first-time users. After another great lunch in the park, we returned to a session by Janet Swisher about her experiences with book authoring sprints and FLOSS Manuals. We were then set for another afternoon of open discussions and small hacking sessions. We started our preparations for the hackfest days proper by moving some tables around, and then began by discussing the current state of GNOME developer documentation and developer.gnome.org. We did not get far before we headed out to dinner, this time to a Mexican “fusion” restaurant called Nada. We had good fun trying to get a drink for Radina with no sugar, with the waiter insisting that their lemon juice was sweetened, but the barman came through and just squished some lemon slices into the glass and made a very tasty cocktail. The food was pretty good too!

open help lunch

Thanks to the GNOME Foundation for sponsoring my travel and accommodation, and to Red Hat for sponsoring my time at the conference. Many thanks to Shaun for putting on a fantastic conference and being a wonderful host.

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Brno documentation hackfest 2013

The second Brno documentation hackfest has finished, and happily it was a bit warmer than last time round! For me, the hackfest was an opportunity to catch up on recent happenings in GTK+ and GLib, and tend to several developer documentation bugs, both in those projects and elsewhere. I also did my usual amount of tech support, and a little bit of planning for the platform demos and overview.

Thanks to the GNOME Foundation for sponsoring my travel and accommodation, and to Red Hat for providing an excellent venue and tasty pizza and snacks. Petr Kovar and Florian Nadge should once again be congratulated for doing a great job on the organisation of the hackfest in Brno. Thanks to Mike Hill for doing the organisation on the GNOME side.

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EasyTAG 2.1.8 released

After getting back from FOSDEM, I put the finishing touches on a new EasyTAG release. There have been a large number of bugfixes, improvements and cleanups since the last release, the most important of which are mentioned in the 2.1.8 release announcement, and on the new project website. For the adventurous, there is experimental GTK+ 3 support in this release, which could do with testing. Of course, the most important thing is a beautiful new icon, for which I must thank Waqas Qamar. Happy tagging!

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FOSDEM 2013 wrapup

I attended FOSDEM this year for the third time, and it was the best yet! Part of the reason for this was that we travelled by train from Norwich to Brussels, changing twice, both times in London. We were apparently on the FOSDEM train, as there were several fun and insightful conversations surrounding us in the Eurostar carriage. The train was not too expensive, as we booked well in advance, so hopefully I will be as organised next time around, and avoid the hassle that is air travel.

As for FOSDEM itself, the stands were in the same building as when we attended last year, and this continued to be a good way to not have the talk venue completely clogged, so hopefully this continues going forward. I gave a couple of talks, about the Ubuntu Online Accounts work that I have been doing, and a lightning talk on my spare-time project, EasyTAG. Both went quite well, and I was overjoyed to receive a gift of chocolate truffles for my EasyTAG talk, many thanks to the organisers! I did the usual bit of support for the GNOME stand, and was even lucky to get a chocolate from the mighty (and mightily tall) Greg K-H. I was really happy to finally meet Bastien in person, and we had a good natter about Cheese and other GNOME-related topics.

martin

We visited some old haunts, including our pilgrimage to the Chéz Leon restaurant, which was excellent as usual. We spent a rainy but pleasurable day with Michael and found a wonderful tea boutique, with the same blend that Kat had enjoyed with breakfast that very morning. Of course, we managed to find somewhere to buy some Belgian chocolates too, and there was even an opportunity for some waffles.

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Fun with chickens

We thought that it would be fun to get some chickens, with some free eggs as a side effect, and Little Hen Rescue seems like a worthy cause. Without a charity like Little Hen Rescue, egg-laying hens at the end of their working life (around 18 months) are sent to slaughter. The chicens that are rescued from slaughter look rather ragged, but will apparently soon fatten and feather up. I hope that eventually they will learn what an egg is.

wtf

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EasyTAG moved to gnome.org

This is just a quick note to say that EasyTAG has moved to gnome.org! Happy hacking, translating and documenting.

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Jelmer and Martin

Martin’s friend Jelmer visited him in sleepy Norfolk, and we joined in for some pub and Broads fun.

river reflections vapour trails

It was so bloody cold when we got back that we hard to burn some dust and light the gas fire when we got back to ours. Ah well, a good excuse to have a cup of tea!

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Visiting Andreas in Gothenburg

reeds

As we were at UDS in Copenhagen, we though that we should visit Andreas, especially as it meant a trip over the Øresund bridge! We drove up on Saturday, stayed overnight and then drove down the coast again on Sunday. It was great to see Andreas in his native habitat, as well as the lovely Dag. A casualty of the trip was Martin’s venerable benQ laptop, but good riddance I say!

leafy bridge forest shade falling leaves

Driving back, Kat had the fun of being breathalyzed, as apparently payday for Swedes means a night of drinking and then driving hungover the following morning. Kat survived the experience unscathed. We also stopped at a nice restauarant in a small town by a river, and generally had a nice and relaxing drive down the coast.

UDS was also fun, as I gave a talk about Ubuntu Online Accounts for Developers with Alberto Mardegan. It was good to see Mathias and Michael again, and sipping cocktails in the bar at the top of the hotel made it even more fun. A lovely dinner with Jim and the rest of the Yorba crew was another highlight of the trip. Kat unfortunately managed to slip on some icey steps, which led to much cursing and a sore ankle. We went to a small Irish pub with Martin one evening, which turned out to serve some very good traditional Danish food! The team dinner will Will and the guys was great fun, and I had to explain to USicans that British pints are bigger (and better) than theirs.

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GUADEC 2012

A very well-organised GUADEC (and with lovely weather too) is now over. The conference was rather a blur this year, primarily because it worked so smoothly. Kat, Lennart and I travelled around Galicia for a few days before the conference, and despite the murmurings of this being the coldest part of Spain, we still managed to swim in the sea. In between the glorious weather and beautiful scenery, we also found time to eat lots of seafood, at very reasonable prices. The bumper-parking in Santiago de Compostela was fun (and of course there was a nice cathedral).

windows and walls derelict pews cables

As for the conference itself, there were many highlights. Jacob Applebaum’s keynote about security and the Tor project was like a call to arms for software developers who care about privacy, and explained in detail why they should care. Adam Dingle and Jim Nelson gave a great keynote discussing their thoughts for funding Free software development, and how Yorba fits in. The “History of GNOME” talk by Federico, Jonathan Blandford and Dave Mason was a thrilling overview of the early days of GNOME, during which I was a happy Fluxbox user, ignorant of any desktop environments beyond a window manager. Having never met Dave Mason, it was good to see another fellow Leica user, and we exchanged some banter about lens choices. The infamous GEGL made a guest appearance too!

discussing toby and johannes

I was very happy to be able to pick up a t-shirt from my first ever “GUADEC”, that being the Desktop Summit in Gran Canaria. At the time, I skipped buying the t-shirt as I was skint from moving the Germany a few months beforehand. Now, flush with cash, I thought it was time to splurge. I even donated money to the local LUG, for compound interest.

Watching Patricia’s talk about her OPW intership hacking on Cheese was rewarding, and she seemed in her element during the conference. I hope that she sticks around and does more great things, with Cheese and beyond! Owen’s talk about smooth animations using a frame clock received a round of applause for his perfect demo. It was also fun to attend Debarshi’s talk about GNOME Online Accounts, essing as Ubuntu Online Accounts deals with many similar problems. Finally, the group photo for 2012 included a (not so) hidden message!

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UDS Oakland

Being in California again, we decided to explore a bit more of Yosemite. The weather at this sime of year seems to be perfect, with just enough water left from the snow to keep the waterfalls flowing. It is warm enough to hike in a t-shirt and shorts, and the tourist season has not started, so the trails are not too busy. This time around, we hiked past the rockfall near Mirror Lake and caught a sunset at Glacier Point. We again stayed in a tent at Curry Village, which is good value if one is driving to Yosemite and has no camping equipment.

misty rainbow rockfall on the way to mirror lake clear water

We even managed to attend a conference in Oakland (and another in San Francisco) and catch up with some old friends.

to all trains bluecurve rgb yorba office

We flew with Virgin from Heathrow, and managed to get the 747 route between there and San Francisco. A cunning tip is that economy passengers can choose to stay on the upper deck, and are even let out (almost) first on arrival. The view is rather nice from up there!

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Wherryman’s Way at Chedgrave

We were due for another walk in the countryside, and continuing our tradition of the Wherryman’s Way, we went to Chedgrave to do another of the circular walks there. We parked the car by the church and had some tea and lunch at a picnic table on the common. The walk took us to a bird hide adjacent to Hardley Flood, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, and then onwards to Hardley Cross before looping back via the staithe.

near hardley flood

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Outreach Program winter 2011

Patricia finished her Outreach Program internship a little while ago, and I merged a patch that she wrote to give Cheese a recording timer when taking a video, now that 3.4.0 has been released. She got some really visible patches merged, such as sharing support with nautilus-sendto, as well as some smaller things such as improving the hotplug support for when adding a webcam while Cheese is running. I was happy with her progress, and I look forward to seeing a talk from her at GUADEC.

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Walking around Reedham

Norfolk is fortunate to have a good deal of signposted walks and trails, thanks in large part to the Broads authority and local councils managing the resources to maintain them. Kat and I decided to take a trip to Reedham so that we could walk some of the Wherryman’s Way, a river-hugging route between Great Yarmouth and Norwich.

Reedham has some interesting sights, like a quay, a swing bridge and a chain ferry. It also has a rather excellent brewery, but Kat was not so interested in visiting it. We went on a circular walk, starting at the chain ferry, going in to the train station and then coming back out to the ferry by the river. It was a pleasant, easy walk, and the marshes by the river were peaceful.

distant birds

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Brno documentation hackfest 2012

The first Brno documentation hackfest has finished, and we are warm and back home after a chilly time in the Czech Republic. While we froze slightly, we were still productive thanks to all the participants huddling together around their laptops and hacking furiously on documentation. For my part, I went through lots of bugs in the API references of GLib and GTK+, solving as many as I could. Thanks to Ryan for the discussion about GLib and use of GAction inside GTK+. Most of my fixes are now merged, and they should show up in the next releases of both projects.

As well as the decent amount of hacking I got done, there was lots of brainstorming about specific applications. It was great to have Cosimo on hand to demonstrate Documents, as his insight flagged up a load of new tasks on which to write documentation. I was able to give tech support to those in need, which was (at various stages of desperation) most of those in attendance.

phil the documentor

Of course, no trip report would be complete without mentioning food, and we were spoilt for choice, as long as the choice was meat! Czech food is heavy, which suited the cool weather rather well. When we moved hackfest location from the university where the Red Hat Developer Conference was being held to the Red Hat offices, the hacking continued late into the night, fuelled by pizza. Many thanks to Red Hat for the productivity boost, of both the pleasant offices and the excellent pizza.

Thanks to the GNOME Foundation for sponsoring my travel and accommodation, and to Red Hat for providing an excellent venue and tasty pizza and snacks. Special thanks to Florian Nadge and Petr Kovar for local organisation of the hackfest, making us feel welcome and looking after us while we were in Brno. A final thanks to Shaun McCance and Syllogist for organising the hackfest and taking us out to dinner.

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Road trip to FOSDEM

FOSDEM this year was great, and it was good to be back after a one year hiatus. Kat and I even gave a presentation! We borrowed by mum’s car and drove, which turned out to be not the worst choice. Everything was fine up until we got into Belgium, but as we arrived in our destination country, not only did the quality of driving take a nosedive (yay!) but it started snowing. It was more of a blizzard, and brought traffic to a standstill. As we arrived in Brussels, my phone battery went flat and we lost all hope of GPS navigation, but somehow we managed to make it to the university and parked. We waited at the bus stop, but true to form the bus did not turn up, and after getting bored of waiting Kat asked a group of people for help. They escorted us to a nearby metro stop and we were finally able to get into town and to the hotel. We made it to the beer event and managed to find the usual suspects.

The sudden snowfall made FOSDEM rather cold, although it looked quite pretty. We spent most of our time at the GNOME stand, which this year was moved to a separate building (together with most other stands). Luckily, I did not attend the keysigning this time round, so I did not have to stand in the soggy snow for an hour! We met James while queuing for chips one lunchtime, and we had a quick chat before heading back to more talks. It was great to see Karen again, this time with husband Mike, with whom we had a great time at the GNOME beer event. Our presentation about “Getting into GNOME” was towards the end of the day on Sunday, and I think it was a good blend of the experiences that Kat and I had while starting out as GNOME contributors. There was a bit of discussion after the talk about how to improve the process for new contributors, so hopefully the project will be even more welcoming in the future. We left immediately after our talk, as we needed to allow plenty of time to reach to channel tunnel for the last train back. Driving through Suffolk was very slow, as the fog was so thick that we could barely see a few metres in front of us. There were strings of clear air which we sometimes hit while driving, but overall it made the journey back a lot slower. Still, we made it back in one piece. :-)

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Back in Blighty

After three years in Berlin, it is good to be back in England. Kat is still stuck in Germany, tidying up some last bits of paperwork relating to the flat, but she will be back next week and our German adventure will be at an end.

The journey back was the usual fun experience, but with the added complication of doing it over the new year holiday. The scheduled ferry was cancelled and the multi-hour delay after a day of driving along wet and miserable roads (and avoiding insane Belgians) was about as much as any of us could stand, but we made it over without incident.

And now, I have some unpacking to do.

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Cheese now has (non-interactive) tests

One of the tasks for Cheese in the recent Google Code-In 2011 programme was to add a basic non-interactive test suite, which Lucas Baudin did a fortnight ago, with only a little nudging in the right direction from me. I took his beginning, and fleshed it out with tests for more objects, as well as code coverage testing and reporting with gcov and lcov. With the very basic tests so far, the coverage is already pretty decent, and hopefully that will continue to improve in the future. I used GTest for the test implementation, which enabled the use of gtester-report, giving some quite useful output. Although I had to roll my own Makefile rules for the report generation (the example supplied with GLib is a bit limiting when used with non-recursive make), I think the results are worthwhile.

At the very least, the next release of Cheese can be made with a bit more confidence that it works as it should.

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Cheese and Google Code-In 2011

I have helped a bit with the organisation of Google Code-In 2011 for GNOME this year, by adding some tasks for Cheese, Vino and Vinagre. I am also an administrator for the GNOME organisation, so feel free to bug me on IRC if you need permissions to add tasks. Also, come and find me if you want any information (besides what is mentioned in the description!) about the tasks for which I am listed as a mentor. There should be plenty of time to complete the tasks, although some of them may prove to be quite challenging. There is a lot of variety in the available tasks, so there should be something for everyone. Hopefully, at the halfway point there will be enough remaining work to add even more tasks!

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Welcome your new Cheese maintainer

I have been helping out with Cheese maintainership a bit recently, making the odd release so that Kat's and Julita's new help could be seen by translators, as well as fixing a few bugs here and there. Incidentally, it is good to see the result of Julita's Outreach Program work merged, as it looks to be a big improvement over the original DocBook XML documentation. I asked Luciana if she would mind me being a maintainer, so I could be officially hassled for releases, and she agreed!

I do not have plans for earth-shattering changes, but I hope to make it easier to contribute by simplifying and tidying some code. I am also looking forward to learning some more Vala, as it is the language used for the UI portion of Cheese.

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Fun at the Desktop Summit 2011

The Desktop Summit came to Berlin this year, and I went along, together with many others. It was at a great venue, the Humboldt Universität, right in the middle of the city. I decided to assist the organisers as a volunteer, and helped out lots of friendly attendees at the registration desk, as well as managing to sell several GNOME T-shirts. I also helped video some of the sessions, and was lucky to be interested in every session that I attended as part of the volunteering. I would recommend the experience to anyone who wants to take part in the hallway track of the conference, as there is plenty of opportunity to do so! As a bonus, volunteers were given a free T-shirt for each day that they helped out, in a special red colour (the conference T-shirt was a dark grey).

I did not manage to take any photos due to the hectic schedule, but managed to see most of the talks that I wanted to, the GNOME State of the Union being a highlight. The Copyright Assignment Panel discussion was a packed-out session with interesting and articulate views on both sides of the copyright assignment fence.

The parties this year ended up being really good, with The Box at the Beach being my favourite, although I would guess that any people who did not arrive early had to wait in line for food. Still, it is quite a challenge to feed nearly a thousand people in the space of a couple of hours. It was great to meet up with friends again, although there did not seem to be a large degree of mixing between the GNOME and KDE groups, unless it was forced by the schedule.

The best thing about conferences in one's home city is the opportunity to socialise with people after the conference has finished, and to this end we shared a wonderful evening at our flat where we watched demos and reminisced about the fantastic time that we have had with computers throughout the years. Ah, nostalgia!

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US Tour Days 19: The long trip home

We had to wake up pretty early in order to get to the airport on time, and so we had to take a taxi, as no public transport was running. We were offered a licensed taxi or one of the hotel cars, both of which should have been the same price; we went for the taxi as the taxi driver probably needed our money more than the hotel. This turned out to be a mistake, as the driver took a very roundabout route through the city to the highway, and then took the wrong highway to go past Daly City instead of going directly to the airport. Kat was awake enough to realise this, and gave the driver a stern correction. After some pathetic excuses regarding Highway Patrol, we eventually got to the airport with the meter reading around $15 too much. Looking rather sheepish, the driver took off the extra charged due to his creative routing, as well as providing a blank receipt rather than the completed one that Kat had requested. She was rather unimpressed, and demanded that he filled in and signed the receipt.

With the horrible taxi experience over, it was great to get free wireless Internet access at San Francisco airport. Generally, the experience at the airport was good, until we got to the point of boarding the plane. As the boarding time approached, we noticed a steady pile of luggage forming at the gate, which turned out to be extra hand baggage that would have to be checked into the hold because it took up too much space in the cabin. By the time boarding was complete, this pile had grown substantially; it seemed that having one item of hand baggage was too complicated for most passengers to understand.

After an uneventful flight, we landed at JFK airport in New York and had a walk around. We had a couple of hours to kill, so we wrote some postcards and got some food at Burger King. We somehow ran out of time to find a postbox before the flight, so Kat gave the postcards to an airport employee and asked him to post them. We reached the gate on time and boarded the flight, although unfortunately we were not sitting next to each other. I got to sit next to an interesting lady from New York, who was flying to Berlin to meet up with some fellow photographers. She had an iPad, and was annoyed that her website did not work without Flash. I tried my best to explain the differences between Flash and HTML5, but I am not sure that I succeeded. The worst thing about the flight was that we were flying with Delta, which meant that the service and in-flight meals were not as good as with KLM on the flight over. For a long-distance flight, I would try to avoid Delta in the future.

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US Tour Days 16, 17 and 18: At a conference

As a culmination of our trip to the USA, we were to attend the MeeGo Conference 2011. Of particular note was that there were no significant device announcements, and in general very little to be excited about. However, meeting up with friends was fun, and the dinners and parties were good!

We spent the first day of the conference attending talks. There were plenty of familiar faces, and also many new ones. The hacker lounge was a fun place to hang out, although the enthusiasm of Dublin was mostly absent, as the conference drew on without a major announcement. The welcome reception on the first day had some good nibbles, with the bar staff helpfully confiding in us that they got paid by the (spirit) bottle rather than by the drink!

Reception at the Hyatt

The following day we attended some more talks, although the programme was already looking rather sparse. During a break between talks, we did some shoe shopping at REI, a co-operative with good prices and friendly staff. Kat was finally able to try on some toe shoes! Once we found the right size, she bought a pair and we headed back to the hotel for some more talks. When the talks finished for the day, we joined the other attendees in getting on coaches to go to the Exploratorium. Once there, we spent the evening playing with a multitude of exhibits, and eating some very tasty finger food. I was a bit disappointed when I asked for a martini and received a cocktail glass which contained gin and an olive, but the mojito that I had next was tasty!

long bubble levitating bubble timeless levitating bubble

The last day of the conference seemed plodding for most, with people gravitating to the hacker lounge over the course of the day. We took a break with Denise and Josh to do some clothes shopping, and I was finally able to find some jeans in my size! We got rained on while heading back to the conference hotel, dropped off our bags and then headed to the hacker lounge. Michael was there, and we decided to watch one of the DVDs that had been left out. A few more people joined us, and most were immediately able to recognise that it was Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. We watched and chatted, which was a pleasant finish to the day. For the last evening of the conference, we had a company dinner, with Kimmo joining us, at Greens, as there was no scheduled conference event. Chris had recommended the place, as it had a very good reputation as a vegetarian restaurant, and we were not disappointed. The food was great, although there was a conspicuous absence of meat. It was fun to try root beer and ginger ale, and we left the restaurant hoping to visit again should we be in San Francisco in the future.

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US Tour Day 15: Along the Embarcadero

We awoke to a fridge full of chilled pizza―fantastic! After a little bit of exercise, also known as twiddling the knobs on the microwave, breakfast was served, together with some Earl Grey tea. We again had a lazy morning, catching up on processing some photos and otherwise wasting some time on the Internet. Once Claire was up and about, we decided to go shopping, so we caught the subway into the centre and started our bargain hunt. We quickly ended up at Old Navy, where Kat was pleased to find a multitude of rainbow-coloured clothes that fitted her, and were single-digit prices to boot. I was happy to be dragged along, as Kat was having the best shopping experience since we left the UK and moved to Germany. We exited Old Navy with a modestly-full bag of new tops and some pyjama bottoms, and then continued for a bit more, having lunch at a large food hall once Kat was satisfied with her haul. We headed back to the apartment, had another cup of tea and then packed up all our new clothes into the suitcase before heading back into the centre.

We got off the subway near the conference hotel, and managed to find it pretty easily. There was lots of MeeGo signage around the lobby, and the atrium was expansive, but we managed to find the check-in desk and drop off our baggage in our room. Once we were back in the atrium, we found some automated registration desks and proceeded to register ourselves for the conference, print our badges and collect our swag. As we were finishing up, we bumped into Chris and Andre, who we chatted with with for a while, until Julie turned up as well! While she registered for the conference and picked up some swag, we dropped ours off in our room, and then joined her in the lobby. We left the hotel and walked towards San Francisco Bay, where we started walking north, along the Embarcadero. We chatted and enjoyed the surroundings, although the strong wind and overcast skies made for a chilly experience. We turned west with the shoreline, and soon happened upon Fisherman's Wharf, where we grabbed a sourdough roll and some crab to munch on for a mid-afternoon snack. Seagulls were eager to snatch our food, but none were bold enough to do so, so we finished eating and then moved on to the municipal pier, which juts out between the wharf and Gashouse Cove, protecting the Aquatic Park Cove. We took photos of Alcatraz Island from the end of the pier, and then carried on walking towards Fort Mason. We stopped briefly at the National Maritime Museum Library, and then walked along Marina Green before finally getting onto the beach, where we got our first good view of the Golden Gate Bridge. We took a few photos and then walked up to the level of the roadway, so that we could catch a bus back into the city. This proved to be more challenging than we expected, as we missed a couple of buses, and only just managed to catch the third one.

spiral decking Golden Gate Bridge Julie Pawprints

That evening, Chris took us to the New Delhi Indian restaurant for dinner. It was supposedly Bill Clinton's favourite Indian restaurant in San Francisco, and we saw a photo of him answering the phone inside. The food was closer to what we were used to from Indian restaurants in England, and a step up from what we had become accustomed to in Berlin. We headed back to the hotel and went to bed.

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US Tour Day 14: Mountain View and San Francisco

The day started as the previous had ended, with a happy cat walking all over us. I got up with the help of an alarm, as I had to jog to the car to top up the parking meter for a few hours. I came back to the apartment, and Kat was awake so we had a cup of tea and then followed James to a small café nearby, where we ordered bagels and a large pot of tea. The whole meal came to $3, and the place had a really good atmosphere, so we sat and reminisced for a while. James headed to work for the afternoon, and we walked back to the car so that we could drop it off at the airport.

First, we had to drive to the Wal-mart in Mountain View where we had purchased the satnav two weeks previously. We returned it without any hassle, later finding out that the exchange rate had improved in those two weeks, so we actually made money! We also picked up some more tea, and some swimming clothes for the evening, and then went to find a petrol station. We asked if they could direct us to a car wash, but the attendant did not know of one nearby, so we asked at a nearby garage, and were pointed in the general direction of a large hand car wash. Kat had never experienced this, so we took our time walking through the customer areas, to see every stage of spraying, cleaning and buffing all of the crud that had accumulated on the car for the past two weeks. The wash cost us $15, and we took advantage of some free (and fresh!) popcorn while we waited. We also met an interesting fellow on the forecourt, who had a barbecue set up to cook ribs for customers passing by. He was kind enough to give us a single rib, which was more than enough for Kat, as we were not hungry enough to buy a whole rack! We drove back to the airport, where we dropped the car off at Budget, before catching the train back to James and Claire's apartment.

We lazed around for a bit, catching up on our lack of reliable Internet access, and then prepared for the evening by looking at a takeaway pizza menu. Friends of James and Claire started arriving, and we soon headed outside for the hot tub, which was simmering at a rather toasty 38°C. Soon, we were pleasantly roasting along with the hot tub, and Kat even took a dip in the adjacent swimming pool to cool down, before coming back for a second round. Once we were all thoroughly warmed, Jude and his girlfriend arrived, so we decided to go back to the apartment and order pizza to cool down. Soon after, the pizza arrived at the door, and we dug in to some of the biggest and craziest pizza combinations that we had ever seen. The pizzas were a bit too much for us, so we had to put a few slices into the fridge, but these would be useful for breakfast! While waiting for our dinner to settle we attempted to watch some American television, but gave up because a chubby English bloke was trying to tell Americans what to eat, which was rather sickening for all the Brits in attendance. By this point it was quite late, and people started to head off home, and after a while there was nobody left except for us, James and Claire. We made our beds, and went to sleep full, warm and content.

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US Tour Day 13: Mirror Lake and San Francisco

The night was cold, but not quite as cold as the one before, so when we woke we headed straight to the breakfast buffet, as there were queues for the showers. After we finished eating all that we could eat, the queues had died down enough to venture into the showers. I finished first, and was staring into space while putting on my shoes, where I had carefully placed my wedding ring while I was showering. Unfortunately, I then tipped it onto the floor, where it lazily spiralled towards a crack in the floorboards, before dropping through to the ground below. Oh dear! Kat then finished showering, just in time for me to persuade her to clamber through a gap between the building and stairs leading up to it, to retrieve the ring. She wiggled in and then backed out, and I was a married man again! Most importantly, I survived the experience unscathed. We headed back to the tent, packed up our belongings and put them into the car, and took the extra blankets back to reception.

We caught a shuttle bus from the car park to the Mirror Lake stop, and we started down a route along the south side of Tenaya Creek, which we knew would be blocked further along, but which we felt sure had a bridge before the blockage. Unfortunately, we were wrong, and after a while we encountered other hikers who had made the discovery for us, so we turned back before crossing the river near the bus stop. The route was paved, and we were passed by several cyclists and cars along the way, although most of the cyclists were walking due to the (shallow) incline. The road stopped once it reached Mirror Lake, and thereafter the route was merely a trail. We walked along the shore of the lake, which was indeed as still and mirror-like as the name implied. Compared to the mountains that we had been climbing for the last couple of days, Mirror Lake was pleasantly sedate. After strolling for a bit, we took some photos and then took a different route back to the bus stop, which we managed to reach in the nick of time, as a bus was just arriving. We took the bus back to the car park, and then started out to San Francisco.

mirror rock near mirror lake Leaving Yosemite Yosemite valley

We left the Yosemite Valley and took the north fork for some variety, as it was along minor roads (better views!) and would end up taking less time overall. The hills that we climbed while driving up to Foresta took us above the snowline, and opened up to a region where large swathes of forest had burnt down. We stopped a few times to take some photos, and then continued onwards, enjoying the views. The journey was pleasant, although the roads were typically potholed. There were some impressive views, such as coming over hills to witness the thousands of wind turbines in the Altamont Pass wind farm near Livermore. We stopped at a McDonald's when we were an hour or two away from San Francisco, where we grabbed some food and took advantage of the free wireless Internet access to call James and find out where we would be staying. We input the address into the satnav, which gave us dire warnings about traffic and adjusted our route to go across the San Mateo bridge, a strange experience, with the first five miles of the bridge a causeway before elevating to raised portion for the last couple of miles. We found James and Claire's apartment building relatively easily, and I went up to see Claire and say hello, dropping off our suitcase before going back to help Kat park. This proved to be a particularly difficult exercise, exacerbated by the baseball game taking place that evening. In the end, we parked at a meter relatively nearby, paying nearly $20 for the privilege of three hours of parking. We headed back to the apartment, washed and changed, had a quick chat and then headed out to celebrate James' first anniversary in San Francisco. It was great to see him and Claire again, and we spent the night reminiscing, drinking some exquisite cocktails and generally having a great time. After the cocktails, we headed for an Irish pub, and we met Conor, who had an N900! We had a few more drinks, and then it was time to go to bed, so we walked back to the apartment and snuggled up in the warmth of the sofa bed. Hertz was very excited to have some new friends!

scorched

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US Tour Day 12: Journey up to Yosemite Falls

The night was a cold one, even with the extra blankets that Kat had managed to get from the camp reception. Still, we survived without getting accosted by any bears, and were happy to get some more clothes on before heading out for breakfast. We went to the same restaurant inside the camp that we had visited the night before for dinner. As before, it was an all-you-could-eat buffet, and we eagerly filled our bellies, knowing that the day's trail would be a fair bit of effort. I was especially happy with the availability of chocolate-flavoured milk, and Kat really enjoyed the guava squash. We filled up our bottles with squash and water, and started on our journey.

We caught a shuttle bus from Curry Village to Camp 4, and after a moment of confusion found the trail and started our ascent. The path zigzagged up the slope, and we soon came across several volunteer rangers, complete with all the gear expected of a real ranger, except for guns. We took photos on the way up, passing and being overtaken by the same people as they did the same. Many of the other people on the trail were seasoned hikers, one of whom pointed out a deer to us, that could be seen through the forest. There was little snow on the ground at this point, as most of it had already melted, but as we came across clearings and waterfalls along the route, there were several patches scattered around. We took a break for photos at one of these spots, and were passed by a convoy of elderly people, with whom we would jostle for position until the flat section. After a few more hairpin bends, we broke through the treeline and were greeted by picturesque views and warm sunshine; an ideal time to cover each other with sun block presented itself. We started a trend, as passers-by stopped to do the same. As we came to the end of the alternating hairpin bends, the steep slope gave way to a flat section around the base of a cliff and towards Yosemite Falls, which was visible for most of this section. A rocky length of the path was made into an obstacle by meltwater flowing down the cliff and over the smooth rocks, so we slowed a little and tried to avoid the deeper sections. The remaining scattered trees gave way to hardy shrubs, and snow started to become more common.

Pouring snow valley wall half dome Half Dome Yosemite Valley Half Dome in clouds Upper Yosemite Falls upper yosemite falls At the bottom

We soon came to another steep section of zigzagging path, which snaked up the side of the hill adjacent to Upper Yosemite Falls. As we continued our climb, snow lined both sides of the path, and before long spilled onto it, becoming deep enough that we could see the footprints of individual hikers. At this point, one of the group of elderly hikers caught up with us, as we realised that we had not been passed by or overtaken other hikers recently. We carried on, overtaking the lone hiker, and would continue to swap places with him all the way to the top of the waterfall. The route from here to the top was relatively arduous, as we were quite high by this point, while the slush, snow and meltwater made some sections of path slippery. As we crested the hill, the path opened up to a field of snow, dotted with trees and shrubs. So few hikers had reached this point that there were several lines of footprints across the snow, and we lost the trail a few times, having to turn back in order to find the way. The snow-covered ground gave way to rocks, and the sound of the waterfall grew louder, so we continued away from the snow, soon reaching a ledge overlooking Upper Yosemite Falls and the valley below. We took a path to a smaller ledge, which allowed better views of the waterfall, and them came back to the upper ledge and stopped for lunch. We got chatting to the elderly hiker that we had seen earlier, and discovered that his name was Chuck, that he was from Atlanta, Georgia, and was in his seventies! He explained that the reason that we had not seen many people on the second steep climb was that someone suffered a heart attack on the first set of zigzags, leading to a temporary closure of the trail, until they had been stretchered off the hill. Chuck fed some nearby chipmunks with corn biscuits, being careful not to feed them to the squirrels, and shared them with us too. He was kind enough to take a photo of us.

yosemite valley lookout Yosemite Valley us by chuck

After an hour of lunch, rest and photos, we began our descent, stopping at the head of the trail to collect some snow in our bottles, as we had emptied them on the hike up. Apparently, the water in the streams is not potable, due to the high level of bacteria, but the snow seemed clean. It was relatively challenging to walk down the first steep section of the trail, not least because the snow that we had passed earlier was now a slushy mess, leaving Kat's feet soaked through. I was fortunate enough to have waterproof trainers, while Kat's were rather holey. The flat section of the path was still dry, so we made good progress along it, and continued briskly down the second steep section, although we were again slowed by meltwater, which flowed down the path like a stream. We reached the base of the trail at around 16:30, and watched as a group of children pushed in front of us and the other waiting hikers to get on a shuttle bus. Luckily, there was just enough room for the two of us to stand by the driver, so we boarded and headed back to the tent to pick up our dirty laundry and change out of our slightly wet clothes. We dropped off our washing at the Housekeeping Camp laundrette, which gave Kat some time to process photos. By the time the washing was dry, the dinner buffet was open, so we once again ate all that we could, and then headed to the Curry Village lounge, which was conspicuously empty. We quickly found out that this was due to the Internet connection being down. Still, we had plenty of photos to process, and blog entries to write, so we spent the evening drying by the fire, before heading back to the pile of blankets and a cold tent.

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US Tour Day 11: Arriving in Yosemite

We woke up pretty early, relieved to find that all of our body parts were still attached and nothing had been pinched. Still, we decided to leave as early as possible, as our alternative route to Yosemite via the South Entrance would take a while longer than the Tioga Pass route that we had originally intended to take. We stopped at a petrol station very close to the motel, which was rather cheap, and then we left Bakersfield, stopping at some services in search of breakfast. We headed inside a shop to find a Subway tucked away at the back. As we could not see anyone behind the counter, we waited for a minute before a sleepy guy came through from the kitchen. He was so asleep that we had to explain several times which ingredients we wanted, and that we wanted a full dozen of cookies (yes, 12 cookies). He was awake enough to explain that we should get a large drink, as it would be essentially free given the other food that we had ordered. The drink came in a ridiculously large container, which must have been roughly a litre in volume, which nevertheless had a tiny base that fitted neatly into the drinks holder in the car.

We continued north until we reached Oakhurst, where we stopped at a petrol station to refuel. I filled up the car while Kat went to the loo. My German credit card was rejected by the cash machine, so I went to the cashier and had to leave it with her while I filled up. Once I had finished, I went back to sign and the transaction was complete. A bit of hassle that I had not experienced up until that point, but one that Kat had seen all too often! We went a little bit further along the road and stopped at a visitor centre, as we wanted to check which passes were open to get into the park. Luckily, we found that the route into the park via Wawona that we were planning to take required vehicles to have snow chains fitted. As we had no desire to buy some chains, we decided to take the El Portal entrance, passing through Mariposa as we did so. It was a good choice, offering some great scenic views, and was only a few minutes longer than the winding mountain roads of the Wawona entrance. We stopped at a couple of viewing points on the way in, and then picked up the usual newspaper and map before continuing to Yosemite Valley.

The road on the valley floor was a one-way loop, although it had two lanes in most places. There were several places to stop and take photos on the way in, and we took advantage of several of them before reaching the Curry Village reception. We paid for accommodation in a canvas tent for two nights, at about $110 per night. Before we were given the keys to the lock for the tent, we were made to sign a form saying that we were ‘Bear Aware’, as bears are a relatively common visitor to Yosemite Valley, and there are certain precautions that must be adhered to, such as keeping food in a bear-proof locker outside the tent. The reasoning behind the precautions is to ensure that the wildlife remains wild, and it is worth remembering that there are considerable fines for non-compliance! We walked the short distance to the tent, grabbing all of our baggage from the car on the way. We made the bed and went for a rustic lunch of chili and soup at one of the restaurants near the reception. While there, we chatted to a teacher who was visiting the area with her students. She saw that we had laptops with us, and asked if we could check the weather forecast. We found that there had been heavy snowfall two nights prior to our arrival, and rain the night before. Furthermore, the average temperature during the night was close to freezing point, so we remembered the thin blankets on the bed and Kat went back to the reception to grab a few extra. We asked the teacher what trail she might follow in our situation, with only a few hours of good light before sunset. She suggested the Mist Trail, which would give us views of Vernal Fall, and the option of stopping to turn back at several points if we needed to because of time constraints. We headed back to the tent, dropped off our laptops and put on some extra clothes for the hike.

Yosemite falls Yosemite Falls splash

We quickly reached the first viewpoint at a bridge crossing the Merced River below, and as we were making such good progress, we decided to continue on relatively briskly. The trail then became steeper and more arduous, not to mention rather slippery, due to the spray from the waterfall above. We continued upwards, stopping frequently for photos, and simply to admire the wonderful views. The last section of trail before reaching Vernal Fall was along a narrow path, with a handrail on one side and a ledge above the other. Water flowed over the ledge and down onto the path, meaning that we had to rush through so as not to get too wet. We reached the waterfall, and admired the views for a time as we took several photos of the view into the valley. We decided not to go the short distance upstream to view the Emerald Pool itself, as we were content with the small sliver that we could see from the top of the waterfall, but to head back down to the valley slightly more casually than we had walked up, again taking photos and admiring the views on the way. By the time we had reached the valley floor, the sky was darkening, and sunset was upon us, so we decided to stop for the day. We got back to the tent and changed out of our clothes, which were wet from the trail, before heading out for all-we-could-eat buffet dinner, which left us rather full. We headed to the nearby lounge, where we placed our wet shoes by the fire and took advantage of the free wireless Internet access for a couple of quiet hours. The lounge was packed with a diverse array of people, sitting quietly at tables, sofas and on the floor. After a few hours, and with our shoes mostly dry, we headed back to the tent for bed, and cuddled for warmth.

Waterfall at Yosemite Vernal Fall Mist Vernal Fall through the clouds stream cloud dome

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US Tour Day 10: Death Valley and Bakersfield

I again managed to wake Kat up with my computer, this time while looking for a free power socket. I found one, after much noise and disturbance. We had a leisurely breakfast, somehow managing to finish the leftovers from the night before. Kat had a quick Skype chat with her parents before we started on the journey to Death Valley. Driving out of Las Vegas in daylight was a lot less impressive than arriving during the evening, maybe because all the garishness was plainly visible. We stopped at a petrol station and continued west into the desert, stopping a few miles along the road to look at the Joshua trees and take photos of the mountains. We continued until Pahrump, and then turned towards Death Valley Junction. Arriving there, we were triumphantly informed that it was the location of the last petrol station before Death Valley. As we had plenty of fuel, we continued on.

cloud cover Hills

Upon entering the park, we stopped at an information point, which was unmanned, presumably due to the extreme conditions. We grabbed a park newspaper and continued driving towards the visitor centre, stopping off at Zabriskie Point, where we could see a large crowd of people atop a mound. The view of Twenty Mule Team Canyon was impressive, and we got a small taste of the high temperature and exposed nature of Death Valley. After taking some photos, we carried on towards the manned visitor centre at Furnace Creek. A guide told us that the Tioga Pass entrance to Yosemite was currently closed due to unexpected snowfall. We had planned to take that route into the park, so we adjusted our plans to come in via the South Entrance instead. Leaving the vistor centre, we headed south towards Badwater, around 17 miles away. We parked and started walking out onto the salt flats. The first 50 metres or so were covered with decking, which jutted out onto the salt flats, and right next to an undrinkable saline pool, the origin of the ‘Badwater’ moniker. We continued out onto a well-trodden path, walking several hundred metres away from the car park before the path faded. The wind at this point was very strong, and I was glad to be wearing Kat's shawl to protect myself from the dust and salty air. We took a few photos before heading back to the car, and then northwards to the Devil's Golf Course. The course was located a mile or so down a dirt track off from the main road, and even though it was only a few miles away from the Badwater pool and salt flats, looked totally alien. The rock salt there had been sculpted by weathering, as opposed to the repeated flooding and evaporation on the salt flats. We walked out from the car park for a few minutes, before heading back to the car and continuing our drive north. Our next stop was the Artists Palette, a one way ‘scenic drive’, with plenty of stops along the route. We took advantage of the stops, hopping out of the car to take photos of the multi-coloured hills along the drive. We even saw some wispy vegetation, in translucent shades of purple and white, before arriving back at the main road. We continued north, past the visitor centre and about 30 miles farther, where we reached the Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes. The dunes were relatively crowded, especially close to the car park, so we took some time to walk away from other visitors, although some people walked even further into the dunes. We headed back to the car after a while and then continued on our way.

Mount Whitney devil's golf course looking into death valley artist's palette mesquite flat dunes

After we had left the sand dunes behind, we drove west towards Olancha, where the sat nav insisted that we should go. We instead decided to turn south just before Panamint Springs, after we had come down from the mountains and onto a flat dry lake bed. The road south took us through Trona, which felt like a ghost town, despite the fact that it has nearly as many residents as my village. We stopped at a petrol station, which appeared to have prices a full dollar less than anything else we had seen in California at that point, but realised when we pulled up to the pumps that they had not been working for several years, and the station was now merely a shop. We continued through the town, seeing the large high school (considerably bigger than the pupil count of 162 would suggest), and the many chemical processing plants. The Searles Lake bed and Trona Railway were also visible from the road. We continued towards Ridgecrest, and then past the China Lake naval base, before turning south towards Mojave. We then drove west towards Bakersfield, going over mountains while the sky darkened. It started to rain, and continued for about 30 minutes, unfortunately cleaning off the accumulated insect guts, our souvenirs from a week of driving on desert roads.

We continued driving and arrived at Bakersfield at around 21:00. We asked the sat nav to find us a motel, as it was dark by this point and we had not booked anywhere to stay. We were directed to a motel called the El Morrocco, and arrived there without incident. It was a small place, very basic, but was the cheapest place that we had stayed in up to that point, at only $45 for the night, including tax. I will admit that it seemed somewhat dodgy, although we did not experience any problems. We asked the receptionist where we could eat close by, and were given the choice of McDonald's or a Mexican place. We elected for the Mexican place, although it also felt pretty dodgy once we arrived, as if we had made some terrible mistake. I had a mixed plate and Kat chose a quesadilla, and we sat and munched the tasty food while a tattooed man played on the Pac-Man arcade machine (it could have been an original, given the tattered look of the establishment). Once we had finished, and just as the place was closing up for the night, we headed back to the motel and went to bed.

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US Tour Day 9: Zion National Park and Las Vegas

We were both awake by 07:30, and, incredibly, managed to leave our room by 08:00. Kat parked up close to the motel office so that we could try again with the wireless Internet, but alas, it was not to be. We stopped at the Subway around the corner and grabbed a footlong Steak and Cheese, some orange juice and some tasty cookies, before driving the short journey to Zion National Park. We stopped at a buffalo viewing point along the way and munched on our sandwiches, and continued onwards. We arrived at Zion a short time later, collecting the park newspaper and map at the entrance. As this was the fourth park that we had visited so far, we finally had got our money's worth for the annual National Park pass (our total entrance fee would otherwise have been $90, and the annual fee was only $80).

We stopped at a viewing point for Checkerboard Mesa, a large mountain with horizontal and vertical lines of erosion, formed by wind and weathering, respectively. We continued towards the centre of the park, and stopped just before the Zion—Mt. Carmel Tunnel at the Canyon Overlook Trail, which was a one mile round trip up through a rocky trail to a viewing point of Pine Creek Canyon and Lower Zion Canyon. The park newspaper allowed one hour for the journey, but we took lots of photos and it took more like 90 minutes. Satisfied, we began our journey through the tunnel and on to the rest of the park. As the tunnel was built in the 1920s, the larger vehicles of today are too wide, so there is one-way traffic control. We were the lucky car that was at the end of the queue, so I got to carry a baton through the tunnel and deposit it with a ranger at the other end, to indicate that there were no more cars behind us. On exiting the tunnel, we stopped for photos on the hairpin bends a couple of times while driving down to the canyon floor. We continued south until reaching the visitor centre, where we parked the car and quickly caught the shuttle bus, as cars are not allowed into the canyon during the summer months.

Mesa Wet rock red zion canyon walls perspective from the valley

We took the shuttle bus to the northern edge of the park, all the way to the Temple of Sinawava. The drive was leisurely, and the driver gave us a commentary, in addition to the usual pre-recorded guide. Once we had reached the temple, we got off the bus and refilled our water bottles, and had a short walk before getting on the next shuttle bus. Kat sat by the window, and snapped off photos through a narrow open window. We headed south towards the visitor centre, skipping all of the stops until we reached Zion Lodge. We started on the Lower Emerald Pool Trail, taking photos along the way. As we had made such good time on the journey up, we decided to also walk the Upper Emerald Pool Trail, which was slightly more strenuous. We managed to pass several groups on the way up, making good time. We had a rest at the upper pool, and took in the scenery for a few minutes before starting back down, making quick progress, as earlier. We saw some climbers scaling one of the sheer rock faces, just visible as specks of colour on the distant rocks. At around 14:30, we caught a shuttle bus back from the Zion Lodge stop, and sat in the front of the rear carriage, which had a large viewing window at the front. I snapped a few photos through an open window, as we headed back to the visitor centre car park.

Leaves layers Virgin River

We left Zion at around 15:00, finishing our last cookie and doughnuts on the way. Kat sent a text message to Kelly, letting her know roughly when we would arrive, and we started the drive to Las Vegas. We slowly made our way down, through mountains from the Colorado plateau, distracted by the wonderful scenery. On crossing the state border into Nevada, we immediately saw casinos, as well as huge billboards advertising the next casino town along the route. Unfortunately, as we had left the elevation changes and bends of the mountain roads behind, the Nevada part of the journey seemed lacking in obstacles. Kat needed a rest, so we stopped in a lay-by and she had a nap.

Soon after, we arrived in Las Vegas and followed the directions to Circus Circus. We found a (free) parking space amongst the multitude of car parks, once we figured out that we could park in any parking space. We booked the most expensive standard room, in the west tower of the complex, which was only a few dollars more than the cheapest rooms that were farther away. It was the least expensive room so far, at $53 for one night, and was the shortest distance from the check-in desk. We eventually found the room, after getting confused that only half the elevators went to the floor that we wanted, and Kat had a hot bath while I grabbed the remaining bits from the car. I got back to find a sleeping Kat, who I woke up so that we could rush off to an outlet mall, where we hoped to buy Kat a suitcase and some cheap clothes. Unfortunately, the prices at most of the outlets were no less than we were used to in Europe, and the selection of shops was no more impressive than at a large shopping centre. However, we did manage to get Kat a pair of Levi's jeans that fitted well, even though my size was nowhere to be found. American dream over, we went back to the hotel before dinner, taking the scenic route along Las Vegas Boulevard to gawp at the many colourful casinos and clubs along the Strip. Kelly had sent Kat a text message saying that she would not be able to meet us for dinner, but recommending that we ate at the Peppermill restaurant for a classic Las Vegas experience. We took her advice, and had a huge meal that we were both unable to finish, as well as witnessing a ghastly birthday celebration. Luckily, Kat neglected to mention to the waiter that it was her birthday! Again, we got boxes to take our leftovers back to the hotel with us. We took advantage of the free wireless when we got back, and got to sleep at what felt like an early time, as we had crossed into a different time zone when entering Nevada.

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US Tour Day 8: Bryce Canyon

I woke up at 06:30 as usual, and again woke Kat up, but this time with the clicking of the touchpad. She snoozed for a while. We had a huge breakfast, complete with bagels, scones, muffins, waffles and a hot chocolate. When we were about to leave, I tried to upload a blog entry but realised that FTP access did not work, damn. Kat had already filled up the car with petrol by this point, and was patiently waiting for me in the car park, so I grabbed my laptop, checked out and ran. We left Torrey, driving south, then west, along the Utah State Highway 12, until we passed Tropic and finally reached Bryce Canyon National Park. We saw a small parking area coming up on the left, and decided to take a break, realising that it was a short trail to a waterfall and Mossy Cave. It was a pleasant break after the drive. We continued on towards the entrance to Bryce Canyon National Park, driving through the newly-founded Bryce Canyon City, which was a collection of motels and stops, before reaching the entrance to the park, where we picked up our map and guide. There was a shuttle bus service available, as with Grand Canyon, but we elected to not take it, because we were short on time and it only covered the first half of the park.

arches near mossy cave

Our first stop was Bryce Canyon itself, more correctly an amphitheatre as it was not eroded by flowing water, where we briefly stopped at the Sunrise, Sunset, Inspiration and Bryce viewing points. As my head was slightly sunburnt, I was wearing one of Kat's shawls, as was Kat, although it was rather difficult to keep it from blowing away in the strong winds. After Arches National Park, the air temperature was unpleasantly low for Kat, and pleasantly British for me, probably explained by Bryce Canyon being around 1000 metres higher above sea level. At Bryce Point, Kat navigated around a large puddle to perch on the handrail, so that she could take several photos for a panorama. We left the extents of the shuttle bus route, and continued towards the southern tip of the park, parking at Rainbow Point. This was the highest point in the park, and we were well into the snowline, which was especially noticeable while walking part of the Bristlecone Loop Trail and on to Yovimpa Point; many parts of the path were covered in snow and fallen trees, and therefore difficult to pass through with normal footwear. We returned to the north of the park, and the only exit, stopping at every viewing point along the route. When we reached the visitor's centre, I dropped off some postcards that I had started writing at breakfast. We stopped at Fairyland Point on our way out of the park, as we had missed it on the drive in due to it being before the manned entrance, and before we had a map.

amphitheatre Bryce Canyon Paria View hoodoo framed hoodoo Rainbow point Blown away Dave

We decided to drive as far as possible towards Zion National Park before stopping for the night. After passing through a couple of small villages, with only a single motel each, we were starting to worry that maybe we were too ambitious, and would have to turn back. However, just before the turnoff for the road to Zion, we came across Mount Carmel Junction, a ‘resort community’ where we found the Golden Hills Motel. They had a room for around $60 including tax, and an attached restaurant. We parked and unloaded all of our baggage, trying the wireless Internet access, which did not seem to work, before heading to the restaurant for dinner. The service was interesting, with each response seemingly taking a second or two longer than expected, leading to awkward silences. We both had steak, and the meal was tasty and not too expensive. Stuffed, we went back to our room, and checked at reception to see if there was a problem with the wireless. The receptionist rebooted the router, and it seemed to work. However, on going back to the room we again had problems connecting. It seemed that a single wireless router for the whole motel was not enough, especially if it was located more than 20 metres away. A little frustrated, we headed to bed.

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US Tour Day 7: Arches National Park

I was again up relatively early, typing up blog entries and checking email, and even trying to fix a bug. Once Kat woke up, we chatted to her parents for a while, had a cup of tea and then began our short journey to Arches National Park. We stopped at a nearby petrol station, and grabbed a Subway sandwich for breakfast, and a few cookies for later. The park was only a few miles further north along the road. We received a map and guide upon arrival at the entrance, drove almost to the end of the park to stop at a picnic area to have our sandwich for breakfast, and were briefly surrounded by nervous chipmunks. They moved around a lot, and apparently did not like having their photos taken. The chipmunks left after they were attacked by some small but very aggressive Steller's jays. Then, we headed to the farthest car park near Devils Garden.

We parked up in a tiny space behind a road sign, where it was unlikely that any larger car would have been able to maneuver, and started walking along a trail which took us to several arches, including Landscape Arch, Pine Tree Arch and Tunnel Arch. While the arches were impressive, the landscape was spectacular, with gigantic rock fins jutting out of the ground, and scenic views over the desert towards the La Sal mountains. We then started making our way back to the park entrance, stopping first at Skyline Arch, which, although large, was not particularly impressive. The next stop was Sand Dune Arch and Broken Arch. As we were walking towards Sand Dune Arch, the trail signs directed us towards some large rock fins. On entering a gap between the fins, we were greeted by an expanse of orange sand, with some smaller rocks scattered around the clearing. We proceeded through the clearing, clambering over rock and trudging up sand, until we turned a corner and saw a herd of screaming children playing under Sand Dune Arch. We continued through the fins, and climbed up several clusters of naturally-sculpted rock staircases, before reaching a summit, where we were able to look back through the fins and through to the landscape beyond. We made our way back to the trail, and then proceeded towards Broken Arch, which took us off a prepared trail and through some sandy scrub. Broken Arch is not broken in the sense that there is no arch, but only in that the centre is cracked, as if a keystone fell out of the arch in the past. We drove down to the Fiery Furnace viewpoint, so called because of the colour of the rocks, not the air temperature, and then continued further to the Salt Valley viewing point. We decided to skip the, apparently strenuous and time-consuming, trail to Delicate Arch, instead opting to drive to the upper and lower viewpoints. The lower point was accessible from within 100 metres of the car park, while the upper point was about 800 metres away, and up some stairs. Delicate Arch was visible in the distance, but the landscape surrounding it was considerably more interesting. We walked past the viewing point and up a large rock, where some trail markers indicated that others had been before us. The view of the landscape here was even more impressive than at the upper viewing point, so we stopped and then headed back to the car. The next stop was the Petrified Sand Dunes, which were not petrified, as they did not derive from organic material. Finally, we drove to the La Sal Mountains view point, before leaving the park in search of accommodation.

Rocky curves Pine tree arch pine tree arch cracked flowers barren life skyline arch rock fins balanced rock

As there were no roads through Canyonlands, we drove first north, then west and finally south along the side of Capitol Reef, towards the La Sal mountains, seeing some familiar monuments in the distance. Upon turning right, we entered Capitol Reef National Park and Kat stopped to take a photo. We came across a narrow river running through a valley, with a waterfall as it turned a bend. A few miles further, we drove through historic orchards, and on exiting the park we managed to take some photos at sunset, catching the rocks with golden light. It was then only a few more miles until we came to Torrey, where we checked in at the Days Inn. Kat asked the receptionist for dinner recommendations, and came back into the room just as I had found the website of the same restaurant that she had been recommended. We hopped in the car and drove half a mile down the road to the Sandstone Inn and Restaurant. They were quite busy, but we snacked at the salad bar first, piling our bowls with chickpeas, lettuce and croutons, and the main course was ready soon after we finished. My steak was very good, and rare, just as I requested. Kat was also very pleased with her food, although she was full near the end, so I had to help her a bit. We left at around 21:30, went back to our room and looked over photos, before going to bed at around 23:30.

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US Tour Day 6: Sunrise and Monument Valley

We woke up at 05:00, and sleepily drove down Desert View Drive until the road leading up to Yaki Point. We realised that we had to use a shuttle bus to get further, so we decided to park in a lay-by and walk to the viewing point. We stopped around two thirds of the way, and went off the trail to a large outcrop of rock that jutted into the canyon by about 10 metres. Sunlight was just reaching the western side of the canyon by the time we got to the edge of the outcrop. We stayed for around 30 minutes, watching sunlight pour into the canyon, until we were satisfied that we had taken enough photos. We also realised how cold we were, so were glad to get back to the lodge, and have a cup of tea.

humps Sunrise over the canyon slow light colorado river

We left relatively early for Monument Valley, after buying some stamps for postcards and a breakfast sandwich. We again drove along Desert View Drive, stopping off every few miles to take photos of the Grand Canyon as it narrowed. The views were better here than on the trail to Hermits Rest, as the Colorado River was quite visible, and the other side of the canyon was considerably closer. The road ended at a crossroads, at which we turned north. The route ran parallel to the canyon for a time, as we reached the Navajo Reservation. We saw many stalls selling Indian jewellery, some looking more authentic than others, and the owners always being helpful in directing us to the scenic viewpoints along the route. By this point, most of the landscape was a plain, with the occasional canyon cut into the ground. We turned right soon after, and then continued until reaching a crossroads, where there was a McDonald's and a few petrol stations. We stopped for tea and then took the north road through Monument Valley.

We crossed the state border into Utah, and immediately saw tumbleweed at the sides of the road. There were plenty of opportunities to stop in lay-bys and snap off photos of the monuments, which we did quite often. After leaving Monument Valley, we headed towards Moab, a town about five miles south of Arches National Park, where we would visit tomorrow. We knew that we were getting close when we saw Wilson Arch, and were fortunate to be in the right position to see the gibbous moon through the arch. Soon after leaving the arch, we arrived at Moab. We stopped at several motels along the main street through the town, but did not find anything until we stopped at the Rustic Inn, where the receptionist offered to call some other local motels to ask if they had free rooms. There was one, at the Redstone Inn, a few streets back the way we came. We were surprised to find that the receptionist there could speak Russian and French, just like Kat! As we arrived relatively late, we went to our room and processed a few photos before getting a relatively early night.

entering monument valley Monument leaving monument valley wilson arch

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US Tour Day 5: Grand Canyon

I woke up before Kat, trying not to disturb her. She was very polite, and snoozed through me dropping my laptop charger. Once we were both awake, we chatted to Nikolai (Kat's brother) on Skype for a while, maybe too long in fact. We went downstairs for breakfast, where we got to cook our own waffles with some chunky waffle makers, and drizzle oodles of maple syrup on top. We drove north from Williams towards the Grand Canyon National Park, and stopped after a few miles as we realised that we had forgotten to refuel and had only 20 miles or so of petrol remaining. We stopped at a local independent petrol station in Williams, and then proceeded to the south rim of Grand Canyon, a little later than planned. We paid $80 for an annual National Park Service pass as the entrance, which entitled us to entry to any National Park in the USA until the end of next May. As we would be visiting four other National Parks along the tour, this made the entrance fees a little cheaper overall, as they were $20 individually. Also, the cashier informed us that we could pass on the pass to another person, as long as they signed the back of the card and had some photo ID.

After driving for a few more miles and parking in the Grand Canyon Village, we started walking along the rim trail towards Hermits Rest, about 8 miles in total. There was a free shuttle bus running along a parallel route, so we could take our time with photos and scenery, and catch the bus back later on. The trail started out paved, and most later parts were simply gravel or packed dirt. The bus only stopped at some of the viewing points, with the others accessible only by foot. The first few stops were only short distances apart, increasing towards the west, especially between the last two stops. There was considerable freedom to walk off the set trail, to more suitable locations for taking photos, such as rocks jutting out from the canyon wall, which looked like they could fall at any moment. As the distance between stops grew, there were fewer people, and there were only crowds at the viewing points near the shuttle bus stops. Occasionally, there was some information printed on boards, but it was relatively simple and sometimes repeated, so the intent of the park was obviously to take in the amazing scenery. There was plenty of scenery to choose from, as the defining feature of the Grand Canyon is the sheer size of the region, so we stopped often and took lots of photos. We saw many ravens, and even a few Steller's jays, although they were at the same time curious and skittish, so photos were challenging.

Along the trail fin 12 miles across white outcrop dry valley treeskin red staircase canyon and river

The walk from the village to Hermits Rest took around five hours in total. There was Grand Canyon spring water available at the end of the trail, as well as a gift shop for essentials such as postcards. After a short rest, we caught the shuttle bus back to the village. On passing a female elk, the bus driver explained that Arizona was an ‘open range’ state, and as such any traffic accidents involving animals were at the vehicle owner's expense. Once we were back at the village, we decided to stay inside the park overnight, and booked a room at the Yavapui Lodge. It was expensive, over $100, but meant that we could view sunrise over the Grand Canyon with relative ease, as well as shortening the journey onwards by a couple of hours. Additionally, it was the best room up to that point, with two large beds, a ceiling fan and more importantly — tea. We had some dinner in the village, where I was able to explain to a cashier that most raves in the UK are illegal. The employees apparently have to live in the park in dormitories, but I guess that might give the benefit of being able to relax in the amazing landscape (which they they were probably fed up with by now). After dinner, we retired to our room with a cup of tea, and had a relatively early night, so that we would be rested enough to wake up at 05:00 the following morning for sunrise.

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US Tour Day 4: The road to Grand Canyon

I woke up and started having a shower, when Kat heard me yelp in pain as I let hot water run onto the backs of my hands — sunburn! While I had made an effort to keep covered up while we went sailing, I had forgotten to smear sun block on the backs of my hands, and had gotten rather burnt. Kat smothered me with cool, refreshing moisturiser. We had a quick breakfast of cereal, grabbed a goody bag of snacks that Kathy had prepared for us, and started on our route east along Interstate 8 towards Grand Canyon.

over the hills and far awayThe California countryside was relatively green for a desert, and somewhat hilly. As we drove farther eastwards, the greenery gave way to smaller and hardier shrubs which were less and less green. The hills became more rocky and less fertile, until we spiralled downwards and out of the elevated region completely. The road became straight and there was flat desert ahead, stretching out to the horizon, where a thin strip of mountains was barely visible. We continued until reaching El Centro, where we stopped for lunch at a Mexican snack bar, and had beef burritos. They made for a very filling lunch, especially after we added guacamole and salsa. Our route then turned north towards Brawley, where we turned east and passed through some military training land. Suddenly, the desert scrub turned to sand dunes. DunesWe stopped at a viewing point, and saw a couple of guys preparing their sand buggies for a ride into the desert. The dunes continued for around 10 miles, where they ended as abruptly as they began, and gave way to a straight and undulating road through the familiar desert scrub. long straight roadAlthough the road was straight, the regular dips kept us comfortably under the speed limit. There were signs warning of roadworks and reducing the speed limit by increments of 10 miles per hour, until it was at 25. We then turned a corner and were confronted with a border control checkpoint. We had fun explaining to the guard that we were British citizens, from England, part of the British Isles and a dominion of the United Kingdom. He tried to pronounce Kat's name, and failed. The countryside soon after the checkpoint was unusual, because it was irrigated farmland in the middle of the desert. The fields were square, with the roads lining the perimeter, even down to the right angled corners, through which we had to weave; a slightly disconcerting experience with a speed limit of 65 miles per hour. There were large irrigation canals every few fields, with new ones being dug out at several points. Somehow, even with a sat nav, we managed to get lost at Blythe. It was probably because we were trying to manually use an alternative route, along some more scenic (but relatively minor) roads. After a short period of head-scratching, we left Blythe and headed into the desert again, which consisted of more irrigated fields.

On passing over the state border into Arizona, we began to see large Saguaro cacti, and there was a useful bump of the speed limit to 75 miles per hour. Helpfully, the petrol prices dropped by about $0.50 per gallon, making our refuelling costs cheaper still. We continued on Interstate 10 until Quartzsite, where we turned north on the Arizona state Highway 95 (not to be confused with Interstate 95, on the east coast of the country) towards Lake Havasu City. We were slowed down by some roadworks along the route, but otherwise it was pretty uneventful. london bridge usaWe drove through Parker and near to the eastern shore of the lake, until we reached Lake Havasu City, where we took some photos of London Bridge (USA). Apart from that, the town did not seem to have any redeeming qualities, although we did stop for dinner, as it would be another few hours before we reached Grand Canyon.

continue on this roadThe most interesting directions that the sat nav could give us at this point were to stay on the same road for 140 miles, before reaching Williams, a small town just outside the Grand Canyon National Park. At the junction onto that road, the existing road abruptly stopped, with nothing more than a few ‘Road Closed’ signs before it plunged into a valley. The road through Williams was part of the historic Route 66, and there were many signs advertising the fact. The town was full of motels and inns, all claiming to be the best value. We stayed at the EconoLodge, as it had free wireless Internet and a hot breakfast, and was reasonably priced. The receptionist was native American, and so we found it a bit difficult to understand her due to her accent. Of course, two Brits, one from rural Norfolk and the other from Moscow, should have no problem being understood in the USA. After a few minutes of checking email, we headed to bed.

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US Tour Day 3: San Diego

I had a long sleep, and did not wake up too early, although Kat was still sleeping, so I left her in bed and started tapping and fumbling out of earshot. Molly the cat distracted me for a while, before I was joined by Kat and Kathy (a couple of hours later). We had oatmeal with pecans and blackberries for breakfast (after I finished off the cold pizza), and a cup of tea. Having never had oatmeal before, I was disappointed to find that it was an alternative name for oat porridge. Kathy headed out to do some volunteer work at an animal sanctuary, while Kat and I processed some photos for the blog. Ed had left earlier in the morning, and it was not too long before he arrived back and took us out sailing.

On the drive down to the marina, we got to see the city of San Diego, as opposed to the suburbs where we were staying. Ed explained to us about his car, a Mustang, with a turbocharged engine that gave it about 450 horsepower — insane! Unfortunately, we did not get to try it out, as it was currently undergoing some repairs to the transmission and rear axle, so we were driving a rental car. As Ed is a member of a sailing club, he has access to a number of boats, including a 27 foot sailing boat. As we had been practicing with Lennart a few weeks earlier, it all seemed quite familiar. kat sailinged sailingIt took us a while to get out of the harbour because the wind was not favourable, and the motor ran out of gaspetrol. We had to tack often, at least until we were out of the harbour, trying to eke out every knot of speed from the wind. Nuclear subOn our way out to the open ocean, we sailed past some local tourist attractions: the Scripps research institute, seals and sea lions basking on the docks, an aircraft carrier and a nuclear submarine surrounded by floating sausages. We were even treated to a flyby from a couple of fighter jets. point lomaIt was possible to see downtown San Diego from where we sailed out to, past Point Loma, and I even received a message from my mobile phone provider to let me know that I was in Mexico. basking on the buoyWe passed some more sea lions, basking on a buoy, sailed around for a bit in San Diego Bay and then headed back. Ed stopped at a fuel dock on the way back to the harbour, so that we could refuel and use the motor instead of sails for maneuvering. The pump attendant even recognised my camera, although he was surprised when I said that it was digital.

On the way back to Kathy and Ed's, we stopped at a popular tourist spot by the sea, with some interesting natural rock formations, as well as seabirds, seals and sea lions. Kat even saw a territorial sea lion headbutting seals off the rocks. Once we got back to the house, Ed showed us one of his toys: an electric machine gun that shot plastic balls. We ripped through a few cardboard boxes in his back yard. In the evening, Kathy and Ed cooked us a really tasty meal, with a huge portion of fresh salmon, asparagus with Parmesan cheese and corn on the cob. It was refreshing to have fresh fish again, after living inland for so long. For dessert, we had fresh strawberries, which were juicy and sweet and fell apart while biting them. Afterwards, bedtime.

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US Tour Day 2: Coast road

I woke up a little bit early on Monday, and started typing up the blog entry of our arrival in the US. Unfortunately, I managed to wake Kat up with my fumbling and tapping of keys. After we were showered, dressed and checked out, we (I say we, but Kat will be doing all the driving, as I have still not taken my driving test) began our long drive to San Diego. We drove down Highway 1, a scenic route along the west coast of California, as Chris had recommended it to us. We would have the sea on our right-hand side for the drive south, and had been promised many viewing points and beautiful scenery.

First, we drove to Monterey. As it was the last large town on the drive south before Santa Barbara, we wanted to grab some breakfast before starting the longest section of the route. We parked along Cannery Row, paying at the parking meter with a credit card (!). After a short stroll around the bay (where we also saw the Monterey Bay Aquarium, which Kat would have liked to visit, but maybe next time), we found a small patisserie and had some breakfast. We settled on the ‘breakfast sandwich’, which consisted of bacon or sausage, scrambled egg and melted cheddar cheese (although Kat pointed out that it was, in fact, Red Leicester). We were pleasantly surprised that there was a wide selection of teas, and I chose some organic gunpowder green tea, while Kat had what was possibly the sweetest hot chocolate that I have ever tasted. We were so full from the fatty (but very tasty!) breakfast that Kat had some leftovers, which was handy considering that the next food stop would be at Santa Barbara, about 4 hours drive away. With our snacks in hand, we started on the scenic coastal part of the route down Highway 1, that would take use through Big Sur.

rocks and spray upside-down beer bottle vanishing road Big Sur colourful coastline The scenery visible along the route was stunning from the beginning. We were also surprised to be informed that the road was closed 64 miles ahead, as it is a rare situation indeed that warrants a road closure, but we pressed ahead regardless, knowing that even if road sign was telling the truth, we could turn around and find an alternative route. We were rewarded with many excellent viewing points, and only a handful of other tourists. We stopped regularly, snapping off photos at every opportunity, and gradually we took fewer photos and simply appreciated the scenery while passing through. We drove through some roadworks where it looked like a section of the road had collapsed, and a new bridge was being built to replace it. Eventually, after a couple more warnings of the road closure, we came up against a roadblock at Gorda; gorda roadblockthere had been a landslide and a section of the road had collapsed, so we really could go no further. We turned around and asked the sat nav to find another route, so it dutifully sent us up the mountains and along the Nacimiento-Fergusson road, the entrance of which was less than 8 miles back from the roadblock. kat making squirrel friendsBefore we reached the mountain road, we stopped at a viewing point, and Kat was ambushed by a scurry of squirrels. The first half of the road was slow, thanks to the steep gradients, hairpin bends and lack of barriers, but once over the mountains the terrain was much easier. naciemento-fergusson roadWe followed the road to Jolon, then continued until we reached Highway 101 near Bradley, before continuing the drive south.

At around 19:00, we sleepily arrived at Santa Barbara, and pulled in to the first restaurant that we came across, which was a pizza parlour staffed by Mexican speakers. I found out that asking for ‘coke’ gets the response of ‘sprite?’. Whoops. Kat was feeling so tired at this point that she snoozed with her head on the table while we were waiting for the pizza! Again, the quantity of food was too much, so we asked for a box and walked away with four slices of pizza to snack on later. Kat contacted Kathy, Megan's mum in San Diego, to check if we could stay with her and Ed for a couple of days, and she happily agreed. By the time that we left, it was starting to get dark, and we were both feeling pretty tired. There was still 2 hours 30 minutes of driving to do before we reached San Diego, but because we were two people sharing a car, we were able to make use of the car pool lane. This gave us quite a bit of distance between the next three or four lanes, where drivers were frequently changing lanes and adjusting speed, so we could have a slightly more relaxed drive. We finally arrived at Kathy and Ed's at about 23:30, and were promptly set upon by their cat Molly, who Kat remembered from Japan 11 years earlier, and their dog Jesse. We chatted for a bit, saying hello and goodbye to Kathy's sister, before heading off to bed for a well-deserved sleep.

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US Tour Day 0 and 1: Arrival

As we will be attending the MeeGo Conference in San Francisco this year, Kat and I decided to take some holiday beforehand and spend it visiting friends and driving around the USA. With my newly-issued passport in hand, we started our long journey to San Francisco at 03:00 on Sunday.

The flight to Amsterdam was uneventful, and gave us some time to rest and snack on cake before going through security. Kat almost managed to sleep through the landing, until I prodded her awake. We had the dubious privilege of being subjected to a body scanner while our hand luggage received the traditional X-ray. However, after quickly going through the scanner, which highlighted something near my trouser pockets, I was quickly patted down in that region only, and through security much quicker than any other occasion that I can recall. On the other hand, the US security services probably have my most intimate measurements; I know who to ask for underwear next Christmas. Our flight from Amsterdam to San Francisco was 12 hours in duration, and was as fun as to be expected. There was plenty of food, which (by airline standards) was quite enjoyable. Kat managed to get a window seat, and I was next to her, so we got to lounge on each other for most of the flight. The lights were switched off relatively quickly and the sun-facing windows were shuttered, so we spent most of the flight snoozing, or at least resting our eyelids.

Coming in to land at San Francisco was fun, as we flew in from the north, over the sea, and were able to see most of the city and bay during landing. It seemed like a sprawling mass of buildings, with only a few high-rises. We could even pick out the swimming pools in suburban gardens. After landing, we got to queue up for border security, where we had to provide a full set of fingerprints and a photograph, as well as chatting with the border control guard about the upcoming trip. I had to explain that, sadly, MeeGo was nothing to do with Android and it was some ‘other thing’ that companies that weren't Google did. I got let into the country anyway. Once through security, which took about 40 minutes of waiting and only a few minutes of interrogation, we took the airport railway to the car rental stop. Kat had already booked the car hire, with Budget, although it still took about 20 minutes to organise the details. Her German credit card was rejected, while the British one worked fine. Picking up the car was amusing, as we could not figure out how to open the boot. A quick trip back to the reception and we found out about a hidden button, which turned out to be a hidden lever, but at least it worked. Kat found it pretty confusing to drive a car with automatic transmission after having only ever driven manual cars. The trick was to depress the brakes in order to switch out of parking mode and into something useful. The first things that we noticed while driving were that the roads here are poor, and indicators on American cars are often red, the same colour as the brake lights, which makes indicating while breaking a little confusing. Also, the preloaded maps on my N900 worked well, and the GPS was even able to work reliably without a data connection for network positioning.

We headed off to Walmart to pick up some essentials, finding that bottled water is twice the price of soft drinks, and tastes funny. We also got a sat nav to help us find our way, and this was to prove especially useful. We then headed off to Santa Cruz (not to be confused with the one and only Patricia Santana Cruz, whose similarity in naming is purely coincidental) to meet Megan, one of Kat's friends from her time in Japan. santa cruzSanta Cruz was a picturesque place, the university campus especially so. We had some Mexican food for dinner at a restaurant in town, where I had beef skirt fajitas and Kat had the prawn variant. That was the tastiest steak that I had eaten in a long time! Kat and Megan got boxes to take their unfinished food home with them, which they donated to some hungry beggars on the way to the pier, where Kat and I experienced déjà vu of our extensive study of Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4 several years earlier. We took a ride on an old (originally built in 1924) wooden roller coaster, that pulled plenty of G's in every direction.santa cruz boardwalkAfter we dropped Megan back on campus, we found a Hostelling International youth hostel and checked in, saving a few dollars because we had remembered to bring our youth hostel membership cards. We had an early night and slept very well!santa cruz hostel

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(Important) Vino security fix

Taking over maintenance of a project means that you get to inherit some fun bugs. One such bug that I inherited on taking maintainership of Vino was a security vulnerability, with a variation on the same vulnerability also possible. I quickly realised that the code was part of libvncserver, and so used in a couple of other open source projects.

It is a little intimidating working on a patch to code that one is not familiar with, and even more so with the pressure of being labelled a vulnerability. Additionally, vendor-sec, the mailing list ordinarily used for the discussion of security vulnerabilities before a public release of the fix, had been shutdown after being compromised. There is currently some discussion of implementing a vendor-sec successor, but that occurred after I had asked GNOME distributors for a solution. Fortunately, I received a private reply from Jan Lieskovsky at Red Hat, who offered to coordinate with distributions once a fix was available.

The initial fix did not take too long, but then I contacted the libvncserver and krfb projects to discuss the solution. We discussed my patch and decided that it could be improved to be more generic. Additionally, we discovered that the version of libvncserver used in Vino is old enough that current releases of libvncserver and krfb are not affected by the same flaw. With this knowledge in hand, and an embargo date ready, it was time to prepare releases for several versions of Vino (2.28.3, 2.32.2 and 3.0.2) with the fix. Phew!

Thanks to Jan Lieskovsky, Josh Bressers, Brian Cameron, Andre Klapper, George Kiagiadakis, Christian Beier, Jeff Mitchell and Johannes Schindelin for discussion, and of course to Kevin Chen for the original bug report.

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Easter weekend

Easter is a great time of year, as there are two guaranteed public holidays (in Germany and the UK, at least) either side of the weekend. British residents are even luckier this Easter, as they get an extra holiday for the commonerRoyal wedding. Still, an extra two days of holiday is something to be excited about!

bauhausKat and I decided to join forces with Lennart and take advantage of the holiday, by visiting the home of Bauhaus in Dessau on Saturday. We hired some bikes, saw the master houses and then went to see an exhibition at the Bauhaus itself. Lennart even got himself a new profile photo! We had Spanish tortilla for lunch, and then rode to Oranienbaum to look at the old palace and gardens. Sleeping in the sunLennart was tired. We rode back after taking a rest, and then planned our next move.

Photo of Lennart and Kat performing a maneuverOn Monday (after resting our sore bums from the cycling on Saturday), we went to the Müggelsee and hired a boat. Actually, Lennart hired a boat, because he is the only one of us who has a sailing license. The weather was OK, the wind was good, and we took it in turns to perform maneuvers. Roll on more holidays!Photo of reflections on Müggelsee

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Vinagre, now with more ducks

Now that GNOME 3.0 has been released, including Vinagre and Vino 3.0.0, the fun of the 3.2 development cycle begins. I have some ideas for new features, and plenty of open bugs, but something that has already been merged is the conversion to topic-based Mallard help for Vinagre. Some new screenshots are required, and the documentation is not yet complete, but it is already significantly better than the old DocBook documentation. Thanks to Kat for her work!

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Overhauling build systems

In the last week I have been busy overhauling the build systems of both Vino and Vinagre. They had accumulated a certain amount of cruft over the last few years, and it felt like the right time to modernise the configuration to make it easier to maintain going forward. There is currently a GNOME goal for modernising autotools configuration, although there is some discussion as to the scope and impact of the proposed changes. I took some ideas from the goal, and then made a huge stack of changes on top, such as moving to a non-recursive make configuration. The improved performance of the build system is not particularly significant, but still useful, and several minor niggles were fixed at the same time, such as GObject Introspection support.

All of these changes, and more, will be in the upcoming release candidates for GNOME 3.0, scheduled for 23rd March. I am also hoping to resurrect the panel applet functionality for Vinagre, that is currently not functional due to changes in GNOME Panel. Other than this, there should be no major changes before 3.0, as a hard code freeze is approaching. See you at the Berlin GNOME 3 Launch Lounge to celebrate the release!

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Becoming a module maintainer

When Jonh Wendell asked for a new maintainer for Vino and Vinagre last December, I did not pay much attention. However, Chris Kühl recently completed some GTK+ 3 and GSettings porting work, and this got me interested. I started pushing some patches to Vino, and then checked with Jonh to see if he was OK with me taking over maintainership. So, please welcome your new Vino and Vinagre overlord!

There will probably not be any huge changes to either module before GNOME 3.0, but for 3.2 there are some interesting changes planned. For Vino, the preferences will be merged into a new Privacy & Sharing panel. I am also planning to port both Vino and Vinagre to the networking support in GIO, which should cut a lot of complex and crufty code.

Many thanks to Jonh for being a great maintainer up to this point.

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Humble Bundle overlay updates

Just before Christmas I purchased the Humble Bundle #2, a collection of 11 games. There were some ebuilds for some of the games in Gentoo Bugzilla, but there were some missing, and some less-than-great ebuilds too. I decided to write some new ebuilds and add the improved ones from Bugzilla to my overlay. While I was at it, I updated the instructions for using the overlay with Layman, so that users behind restrictive firewalls should be able to use the HTTPS transport. Thanks to Sean Hudson for letting me know about the problem.

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Microformats are fun!

While researching how to create a blog with minimal effort, I came across hAtom, a microformat. This allows marking up an XHTML document and then transforming it into Atom format for syndication. This transformation can be done with a complex XSL, although the process itself is simple. For me, this neatly solves the problems of RSS as a syndication format, especially the annoying problem of escaping markup.

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Latest Scratchbox packages for Gentoo

I have added the latest Scratchbox packages (the ’hathor‘ version) to my Gentoo overlay. I also removed some old ebuilds at the same time. Now I just need to find a bit of spare time to test Glom with the latest PostgreSQL changes and the overlay should be looking in much better shape.

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Gentoo packaging

It is always helpful to have the latest packages for projects that I work on. As I use Gentoo at work, and specifically the stable distribution, some packages versions that I need are more recent than those in the portage tree, so I made a personal overlay, which can be found on github. I use it for keeping track of some ebuilds that I have submitted to Gentoo bugzilla, the latest GNOME C++ bindings packages, glom, qlom and some gnome-shell packages for Kat. I make sure that I test everything, mostly by using it in my daily work, but I cannot guarantee that the packages have the same level of quality as those from portage. I need to push more of the packages to portage, although some will take a while to hit stable, so it will still be useful to keep them in an overlay for adventurous users on an otherwise stable system.

I learnt quite a bit about Gentoo packaging in the process, and found the developer's manual quite good, although it feels a bit outdated. The developer's handbook is useful for a more general introduction to Gentoo development. In contrast to Debian packaging, I found Gentoo packaging quite enjoyable, although I have heard that debhelper 7 makes things much simpler than previous versions.

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FOSDEM 2010

It was my first time at FOSDEM this year, and it was pretty fun. I got to chat to people about Maemo (although there were not many Maemo-specific talks), and managed to have a good meeting with Dave Neary about my work on maemo.org developer documentation. It was good to see Zeeshan again, and staying in the same hotel as Lennart meant that I got to steal his guidebook pick his brain about good places to eat.

The GNOME Color Manager talk was fun, although nothing particularly new. Hopefully some cross-desktop participation can help that. Greg Kroah-Hartman's talk on writing a kernel patch was interesting, and might finally encourage me to fix my sound card driver (incorrectly-mapped output controls). I went to my first keysigning party, which was weird but fun. Michael Meeks' bootchart2 talk was excellent, and funny of course. Probably the best thing of the conference was the GNOME tshirts, with a GNOME coat of arm and monkeys. Hopefully I get the chance to go to FOSDEM again next year.

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Fooshies (and corals)

Duncanopsammia axifuga It has now been ten months since our move, and the tanks are finally starting to look presentable. Over the last couple of months I have also been getting in touch with various specialist breeders and importers across Germany, as all three of my display tanks were very bare up until very recently, as we concentrated on acquiring new furniture. After many emails, I have finally managed to find a friendly marine importer who had one of my favourite corals in stock: Duncanopsammia axifuga. It is probably one of the easiest corals I have ever kept, being undemanding in the lighting department and very hardy, requiring only the occasional feeding on a regular basis.

Aquaone 2: "African" set-up Our freshwater aquariums have also been looking up, with the addition of gravel and décor to both. The Lake Malawi Mbuna travelled well compared to the South American fish, and the yellow Lab (Labidochromis caeruleus) fry were especially resilient. As I am very limited on space, I have been raising them in my Rift Lake themed display tank which, unfortunately, means that I now have to find new homes for them.

Aquaone 1: finally starting to look planted again The planted aquarium took the longest to recover, as many of the plants suffered during transport. It took a long time to find a suitable substrate so the plants were left to float at the top of the tank for many months after the move. I have had to put this tank at the top of the list for restocking because I keep keyhole cichlids (Cleithracara maronii), who are renowned for being extremely shy to the point where the sight of a neon tetra can send them into hiding, let alone a big, scary person walking into the room. Therefore, they require dither fish: any peaceful, small, schooling species which will indicate that there is no danger while they are out and about.

As for the quarantine tank, for the last four months, Jan Arne and Bev have been borrowing it to try out fishkeeping; I think they are both addicted now.

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Leica M9 and X1

Today, Kat and I went to Meister Camera in order to watch the Leica 09/09/09 announcement. I was a bit worried that I would feel out of place with all the people that might actually be able to afford a new camera(!), but it was pretty fun. We knew what the announcement would say, with the recent leaks and vigorous forum discussion, but it was still fun to watch, with a special appearence by Seal. Afterwards, we got to play with both the M9 and the X1, which I was more excited by than the M9. An SLR-sized sensor in a compact camera body, with manual controls and a great 35 mm-equivalent lens. Still, it's a bit too expensive.

Playing with the M9 was pretty fun, and a lot of guys there seemed quite interested in how well the full-frame sensor worked with the wide-angle Tri-Elmar that I had with me. Reassuringly, it worked great, without the need for an IR filter! Testing with a 50/1.4 ASPH was really fun too, especially as it was the black paint LHSA version. Once I'd finished drooling over the ludicrously expensive limited-edition cameras and lenses (including the white M8), we decided to buy an expensive lens cap, and got chatting to a nice Leica collector from Berlin, and lots of others who were both excited and looking knowingly at their wallets. I think that I will have to settle for the lens cap, but I can still dream!

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A week as a tourist in Berlin

For the past week, my family have been visiting us in Berlin. They drove all the way from the UK, catching the ferry from Dover to Calais. We got some exciting presents from them, most important of which was a white porcelain teapot! Of course, they also brought along lots of Star Trek The Next Generation DVDs, a new William Orbit CD, a hamper of expat food and my new lens! Going around Berlin for a week gave me lots of opportunities to try out the new lens, it being an ultra-wide.

breakfast with the family a We started off with breakfast at a café near the office, which Murray had taken us to once before. We even had some soft-boiled eggs.

berliner dom We also looked around Museumsinsel (Berliner Dom pictured above), and some other famous places in Berlin, such as Brandenburger Tor and the Holocaust Memorial.

mum and kat We spent a day looking around Potsdam, although it rained so we had to hide under umbrellas. The historic part of the city is beautiful, as are the many palaces throughout the Sansoucci Park.

kat and jan arne We had another (impromptu) barbecue at the office, where my sister made some turkey burgers, Kat and I made some beef burgers, and Michael found some tasty Bratwurster. Jan Arne made brownies! We also visited a few more places in Berlin, mostly tourist spots, such as Checkpoint Charlie, Potsdamer Platz and KaDeWe. My family were only here a week, but we saw lots of things and had a great time. Hopefully, they will have more time when they visit next!

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Pre-family catchup

As my family (mum, dad, sister and her fiancé) are visiting next week, I thought it would be a good chance to catch up with things over the past month or so. Last month, we discovered a Kaufland near Gesundbrunnen station. It is a big warehouse with a Kaufland sign on the front, and the biggest supermarket that I've ever visited. More importantly, among all the inevitable useless nonsense that fills most supermarkets, we found Kahlúa and Amarula! We promptly used up all of our remaining vodka making White Russians, which is not so bad, as Kat can bring back something authentically good when she visits Moscow in a month.

We also ordered a classic French cookbook, which I've wanted ever since my mum taught me to cook. We've been making more French dishes recently, and when the book finally arrives we'll be able to get that bit closer to authenticity. Hopefully, the food will taste better too.

kat and michael We had another Openismus barbecue when Murray visited a couple of weeks ago, which was fun and tasty, as usual! This time, we didn't all go to a film afterwards, as there were no films that we could all agree on, but I did take a couple of pictures. This actually turned out a lot better, as there was no rush to get finished, so we had a relaxing time. The next day we went shopping with Murray and Jan Arne. Kat found a fish shop which turned out to be pretty good, and afterwards we went to Ikea. After a huge plate of Swedish meatballs for lunch, we walked round and got a few bits for the office, as well as a light for our hall. Our first light fitting that we bought here, amazing! Now we just need a sofa, wardrobes, kitchen and bookcases. And light fittings.

Finally, today a new CD arrived — Ninja Tuna by Mr. Scruff. I managed to locate an eBay seller that had the two-CD version for sale, and I've already listened to it a couple of times. Great stuff as usual, and reassuringly different from his previous releases. Continuing with the music theme, Warp (my favourite record label, if one can have a favourite) announced Warp20, a huge mega-crazy-deluxe limited-edition compilation of songs from 20 years of Warp Records. It's expensive and I'm going to buy it. Now all I need is a record deck…

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Making pelmeni

This week, Kat and I made pelmeni for us and the guys at the office. Kat learnt the recipe from her mum, and modified it for Kat/Dave awesomeness. We mixed up

  • 1 kg mixed mince (we used pork and beef)
  • 3 white onions
  • ~100 ml water
  • Salt and pepper

in our food processor for the filling, and then made a springy pasta-type dough with

  • 6 cups flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup water
  • Salt

which got rolled out nice and thin, before being stretched over a template. Best shown in pictures, filling the individual pelmeni: filling and then checking that they are all OK, surveying the troops before lining them up and freezing them. I may have surrepticiously used this as an excuse to take pictures of Kat making food. We brought them to the office, which has a kitchen, and a nice big table to lunch at. After cooking in boiling water (with salt and bay leaves added for flavour) for a few minutes, the pelmeni should rise to the surface and are ready. Serve to your hungry coworkers with some sour cream, and enjoy. Lunch

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Going to the movies

at the sony center I haven't been to the cinema for several years, but I went last Friday! I haven't been so long for a few reasons. Firstly, we have a projector at home, so I don't really see much benefit from going out to the cinema to watch things on a big screen. Secondly, it's more comfortable to watch things at home, as the seating at home is better and the kitchen is only a few steps down the hall. Finally, I can pause the DVD player at home! All of this assumes that one doesn't care about watching the latest and greatest films close to the time of their release, which I don't. I haven't had a TV at home for a few years and I don't miss it, so why would I miss the latest films?

However, Murray invited us and Michael out to the cinema last Friday, and so I thought that I would try the experience again. We watched Gran Torino, and it was pretty good fun. It was a simple film, but classic Clint Eastwood, and I quite enjoyed it. The cinema had comfortable seats, a big screen and good sound (although there were a couple of annoying glitches). In Germany, you can even drink beer in the cinema! I settled for a medium popcorn and Seven-up, although I would be afraid to see the large sizes — it took me the whole film to eat most of the popcorn. Maybe my previous experiences at the cinema were spoilt by being dragged to see chickflicks by my housemates, but this time I enjoyed it.

Afterwards, we headed to a bar, grabbed a beer (Kat had a girly cocktail that looked pretty tasty) and then headed back home on the train. Even though it was midnight, there were still lots of people out and about, enjoying themselves, with no hint of trouble. Ah, so unlike memories in the UK.

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Running out of tea

kat drinking tea Now that we've been in Germany for 10 weeks or so, our supplies are running low. We may soon run out of tea! Why is this a problem, I hear you ask? Well, because the tea here "just isn't the same™." We've tried a few different teas, but nothing as good as The Wiltshire Tea Company, a little market stall at the Green Park Station market in Bath, where we used to get our tea on a Saturday morning (when we woke up in the morning, otherwise Craig would get it for us). Luckily, we can order from them online!

Other exciting news is that I have just bought a new lens, in a roundabout sort of way. I wanted something a bit wider in time for my sister's wedding in July 2010 (where Kat and I will be photographers), so I splashed out an a Leica Tri-Elmar-M 16-18-21 f/4 ASPH. I won't be using the lens for a few months, as it is in the hands of Marc until my family visit in the summer. As Leica UK are offering a 15% cashback on new lenses at the moment, and there is an imminent price increase on the lens that I have bought, combined with the favourable Euro-GBP exchange rate, this worked out to a (relative) bargain. I only say this because the value of my camera has stayed roughly constant since purchase, and my lenses have appreciated in value by about 30%. Fingers crossed that my new lens makes me just as much money — savings accounts, who needs them?!

Finally, and most importantly, roll on the Openismus barbecue this Friday!

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Time to explore

Today, Kat and I went to Höffner, in the hope that we might find some furniture that we would like to buy. Unfortunately, it seems that there is a good reason that Ikea is very successful in Germany, as we didn't find anything (among the 100,000 square metres of showroom) that we liked. However, I did manage to take a few photos on the way, which I really should do more often. I think that taking my camera everywhere I go is probably a good start (and a habit that I possessed while we were still in the UK). We also went to a Media Markt, where I was able to look at the new Macbook Pro, as well as all sorts of other techno-gadgetry. I remembered why I don't like glossy (but very nicely saturated) displays, hmmm. However, we did find out that we saved 70 Euro on our washing machine as we bought it from Amazon.

We have lots of exciting things to look forward to in the months ahead. Firstly, we should be able to afford a sofabed at the end of the month — a place to sit at last. Secondly, we have visits planned from Kat's mum and my family, which should both be lots of fun. Finally, and much more importantly, we have managed to find both cheddar and cottage cheese in a local supermarket, thus ensuring our long-term sanity.

We are both feeling a lot more settled now, and starting to enjoy the increasing amount of free time I have, thanks to living closer to the office. We are still missing lots of furniture, but hopefully by the end of the year we should have most of what we need. Within the next couple of months we should be able to get rid of most of the boxes that are currently littering the flat, and everything will look a lot tidier.

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Pros and cons of moving to Germany

prints drying Moving to Berlin, Germany from Bath, UK has been a great experience overall. There are some slight downsides, but being homesick wasn't one of them. I had already spent six years at university so I was quite looking forward to a change. There are plenty of upsides, and my parents were quite captivated by Berlin when they visited. So, in bullet-point form… :)

Pros

  • Bureacracy, that actually works! There are more forms to fill in here, but it's nothing to be afraid of. So far, with the generous help of Daniel and Jan Arne, we have been able to survive finding a flat and all the usual things that come with it.
  • Public transport, although relatively expensive in Berlin, makes it quick and easy to get around, and is still lots cheaper than in Bath. Although my flat is 10 minutes walk from the office, it's still very useful to live three minutes walk from a U-Bahn station, and close to the ring.
  • Lower cost of living, although that is currently warped by the exchange rate. With the pound being pretty worthless at the moment, it was expensive to move all our furniture here. However, now that we are here, rent is cheap and food and utilities are roughly equivalent to the UK. Eating out is cheaper here, but luckily home-cooked meals are still fun!
  • Berlin's a big city, but feels homely. Although there are 3.4 million people living in the urban area, the streets are wide, as are the pavements, so it doesn't feel cramped like narrow English streets can. I liked Bath for being able to walk from one side to the other with ease — I like Berlin because I could lose myself without difficulty.
  • Work is fun! After nearly two months at Openismus, I still look forward to work ever day, who would have thought that programming would be so much fun?! Getting paid to learn new things is really a great job, and (hopefully) soon I'll be able to put my skills to some real-world use.

Cons

  • Banking here is weird. Debit cards are much less common here, and cash is the accepted way to pay unless purchasing items over the Internet. It feels like a backwards step to go to a cash machine and withdraw vast sums of money.
  • Recycling facilities are worse. I was surprised that we are less able to recycle our waste here than in the UK. Maybe BANES happened to be a particularly good council, or Berlin happens to be particularly bad at recycling, but the percentage of our household waste that is collected for recycling is lower here. We can of course go to the tip and drop off more things, but this is not as convenient as it used to be.
  • Cold-fill washing machines. While most apartments have hot water piped to them, washing machines are almost invariably cold-filling. This is an inefficient use of energy, and was pretty unexpected. This inefficiency seems relatively common, with electricity being used for heating in many situations where natural gas would have been a more sensible choice.

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Out and about in Berlin (with the boss)

Serve me On Sunday, Murray invited us for breakfast at a café near the office, as he was in Berlin for the weekend. It was a cool place, and the food was great — cheese, meat, fruit and bread. Mmmm, tasty, and filling too! I think we stayed at that place for a few hours, and they flew by. It was the afternoon by the time we left, and we headed to the AquaDom and Sealife Center near Alexanderplatz. We saw a huge fishtank theat held 1000 tonnes of water and had lots of impressive fish. When we found out that the entrance fee was €17, we decided to give the lift-ride through the middle a miss!

After that, we headed to Oranienburger Straße to see the Neue Synagogue, which was very impressive (also, I have never seen a synagogue before). Then we decided to stop by the Kunsthaus Tacheles which I was slightly scared to enter, but then realised it housed some amazingly cool graffiti, and some really good art (hidden among a lot of crap). It was getting pretty cold now, so Murray "invited us for a coffee" before we headed back to the office and then home. We only explored a tiny part of Berlin, even though it took the whole day and was great fun. Good times.

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Finding Ikea

On Friday we attempted to find Ikea in Berlin, and we failed. I blame this on Google Maps being incredibly unreliable for anything other than the simplest address. Instead of finding our way to Ikea, we managed to walk around a huge area near the Kottbusser Tor station. This is not actually as bad as it sounds, because while it was bloody cold, it seemed like a pretty cool place. A vibrant atmosphere with lots of little shops and restaurants, and people out and about, it seemed pretty lively. Anyway, after walking around for a bit we decided that we couldn't find Ikea and went to Kaisers to buy snack food and head off home. We ate biscuits and chocolate all the way home, yummy.

On Saturday we checked Google Maps and decided that it lied to us a lot, but cross-referenced with the Ikea website and decided we probably knew where to go. We stopped off at the Bürgeramt in Wedding to sort out our Anmeldung, but decided that the person who reserved an apointment for us must have fibbed, as the only Bürgeramt that is open on Saturdays is in Tiergarten. It was cold, but we had Milka to keep us warm, so we headed off to Ikea, and actually found it this time!

We had lunch (Swedish meatballs, of course) and then walked around Ikea for a few hours. Ikea-Tempelhof appears to be about twice the size of Ikea Bristol, which wasn't exactly small to begin with. Shockingly, we managed to buy another light identical to one that we already have, which also matches with the ones at the office. Maybe Daniel is right and Berlin really is the secret capital of Sweden! Also got other boring bits, and saw wardrobes that we might want. Mmmm, watch that money just disappear, hehe.

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The perils of international relocation

Dave Kat was supposed to be flying to Bristol last week, but this didn't happen. Due to snow, her flight was cancelled (snigger). Unfortunately, this meant that she couldn't get back to our old house to do last-minute tidying and fish-packing. This was a bit of a bugger, but luckily, our parents pulled together and sorted everything out for us — thanks parents! A few things got left behind, and there wasn't enough room in the van for most of our furniture, but (almost) the same choices of what to throw away were made by our parents as we would have made. My parents drove the journey from Bath to Berlin, with an overnight stop at Ashford (in the UK), and arrived at about 20:00 last Thursday. We had lost more than a few fish, although it sounded like some of them died before the move anyway, so considering the subzero temperatures outside, this was pretty good.

On Friday we met with Jan Arne at the letting agents and signed the contract on our newly-renovated flat. Through a quirk of organisation we managed to get our first week free! We started to unpack the van, and Jan Arne went back to work, only to reappear about 45 minutes later to tell us that our oven was about to be delivered (it arrived about 10 minutes before he did, showing just how efficient a society we now live in). This was a cue to thank him very much — thanks Jan Arne! — and head to the office for a tour. Murray and Sigi had visited the previous week, so I had to show my parents around all on my own. Also, Daniel had just gone home so they missed him too. Undeterred, we had kebabs for lunch at Falafel UFO; tasty. We unpacked for the rest of the afternoon and then went to an Italian restaurant close to the office for dinner, which was really very good.

For the rest of the weekend we shuffled things around in the flat, occasionally unpacking things and trying all the time to ensure that we didn't (re)pack ourselves into a corner. The only furniture that was able to fit in the van was the dining room table, and we're very grateful! On Sunday afternoon, we headed to the city centre and saw the Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag and walked along Unter den Linden. We sat and drank in Starbucks by the Brandenburg Gate and then headed off home. My parents left early this morning, and Kat and I have a lot of tidying to do!

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Two weeks to find a flat

After two weeks in Berlin, Kat and I have finally managed to find a flat that's to our liking. More importantly, the building is managed by a letting agents, and we have a flat reserved — subject to me passing credit checks. This could be interesting, considering that we have just moved to Germany and don't have any credit history here, but hopefully being employed and having a good history in the UK should help.

We managed to find accommodation within 10 minutes walk of the office, and in an apartment block that is newly renovated inside and out, together with about 10 other buildings in the same area. It's a decent size and for a reasonable price, considering the quality and the location, and we're both pretty excited! The only problem is that the renovation is only guaranteed to be complete by the 16th February, and my parents and Kat are arriving in Berlin with all our furniture (and fish!) from the UK on the 6th. This gives us 10 days to… erm, panic? We're hoping that we can get access to the storage space in the cellar by when my parents arrive, which should be possible as there are other people already living in the building. Otherwise, it could be an interesting 10 days.

We also managed to find a cheese shop, where Wensleydale, double Gloucester and Stilton are all sold as Cheddar. Whoops! Still, it's the only place that we have managed to find hard cheese so far, and it's about 10 minutes from our new flat.

I am almost ready to get paid, as I am now registered with a Krankenkasse, which was really easy as I could simply fill in an online form, even in English! I still need a German bank account, but I can sort that out on Monday. It seems that not having a postbox at our apartment makes it quite difficult to get anything organised, but soon that won't be a problem.

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First week in Berlin

Phew, it's been hectic! Kat and I were due to arrive on the morning of Saturday 10th, but our flight was delayed by an hour before we could even board, due to late arrival of the plane. Then while we were sitting in the plane on the runway, we had to wait for nearly two hours before the plane could could take off due to fog and waiting for other flights that were also delayed to take off before us. We finally got to our apartment at 15:30 and switched on the heating :)

Saturday evening we went to the supermarket and got some food. On Sunday we walked to the office and went into the city centre. Had a look at the Sony Centre, which seemed quite cool. Had hot chocolates at a Häagen-Dasz café, mmmm tasty.

First day at work was great fun. Michael and I built our desks and drawers, and we managed to do so without breaking anything (bones or screwdrivers), despite Ikea instructions! Unpacked computers, installed Ubuntu, got my account problems fixed, and started on jhbuild!

Tuesday and Wednesday I spent the whole time in bed with a virus. I was so exhausted that I ended up collapsing. Luckily, Kat was there to help me out :) I think that moving and the cold temperatures had weakened my immune system, but by Thursday I was back at work. Kat, Daniel and I went to the Bürgeramt in Prenzlauer Berg to register for all sorts of bureaucracy, and after waiting for two hours managed to witness a power cut which knocked out the computer system. We were then told to come back on Monday. Oh well.

During Friday, Michael and I both finished jhbuild, having fixed a few breakages and started fixing the remainder. Almost ready to start the GTK+ tutorial :P

Now I have to head home and look after my poorly wife, as she seems to have caught the virus that I had. Hopefully the nice dinner that I have prepared will help her get better.

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Kat and I are married!

my grandparents are awesome Yesterday, Kat and I got married, so that's another item off the checklist of "things to do before moving to Germany"! It was pretty fun (for a formal marriage ceremony) with sixteen family and friends joining us. We decided to be slightly unconventional, so everyone was dressed in casual clothes (including us), there weren't loads of people that we half-know (close friends and family only), we didn't get married in a church (not believing in God could make it awkward) and we didn't have any photos (camera-shy photographers that don't like posing). This means that it was a lot more friendly and fun than it would have been otherwise :)

After the short ceremony we went to a bar and had some cocktails and cake, before having a meal with some friends later in the afternoon. It was really great to see everyone before we head off to Germany, and it seemed that people had a good time too. Now all I have to do is finish my thesis…

The photo is of my grandparents in The Raven the day before we got married.

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Berlin visit

berlin rooftop sunrise Kat and I went to Berlin for a few days to explore, and so that I could meet up with Murray, Daniel, and Michael. I'm now even more excited to be starting at Openismus in January (after finding out about the cool work they are doing, and the training so that I can do the same), and Kat approves as well! We had a good time looking around the city, taking a few photos and going out for some really good (and reasonably-priced, compared to the UK) food.

Everything related to the job and the work that I will be doing is even better than I expected, and I fully expect to have a great time moving to Berlin and working in great company (and for a great company!) :)

Thanks to Murray for organising the trip, and to Jan Arne, Daniel and Michael for their hospitality.

Roll on January 12th!

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Pre-life

As I am starting at Openismus in January, there are a few things that needed sorting out first:

  1. Get married
  2. Write thesis
  3. Pack
  4. Hackergotchi

The wedding is now booked, and the invites have been sent out! Kat and I will be married by the end of 2008 :) My thesis is coming along OK, I just need to spend a lot more time on it to bring it up to the required length. Packing... hasn't started yet, but we do still have over a month before we need to be ready. Kat was nice enough to take a photo of me for my hackergotchi, and I think it looks pretty good. I made a hash of the GIMPing, so she is now redoing the whole thing (well, after OpenOffice has finished compiling, she says that she has been using her laptop as a heater).

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David King