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05:09 pm: Linux Conference Partners' Program Evaluation

My partner, Daniel Patton first mentioned the Linux Conference late last year, and asked me if I would like to join him. Immediately it conjured up images in my mind of me sitting in a motel room, bored beyond belief while Daniel attended lectures. To say the least I had no idea what to expect, so when Daniel told me that there was a partners' program that would be touring the sights of Canberra, I agreed for him to sign me up.
Daniel and I have been together for six years but in that time we had only been on holiday together once, so the idea of going away together was very appealing. We decided that driving up even though we only live in Melbourne, was a bad idea because we would argue too much (mostly over my appalling navigation skills), so we got plane tickets through Daniel's Dad who had heaps of frequent flier points. So it was all set, all I had to do was find our accommodation for the week, and organise our luggage. We were both looking forward to it, Daniel because he would be talking shop with tech heads all week, and I because visiting Canberra would give me an opportunity to visit a friend of mine who is living there at the moment.
The time went so quick and suddenly it was the night before we were to catch the plane to the Nation's Capital. Daniel being a typical tech head left all the packing to me, and finally by midnight I had everything ready. The next morning we left home about 10 am to drive to my Dad's place who was giving us a lift to the airport. By 11 am we were at the airport and checked in, eagerly anticipating our flight, and discussing our plans for when we got to Canberra.
Well it has been a few days now since we arrived, and I have three very important bits of advice for anyone traveling to Canberra. Number one is if you are going by plane, especially a smaller plane, such as a QANTAS Dash 8, make sure that you are not sitting next the propeller. I made this unfortunate mistake, and ten minutes from landing, I experienced sharp pains to the left side of my head. It felt like my left eyeball was going to explode, and I had a severe headache for several hours afterward. Brilliant way to begin a holiday, don't you think?
Secondly you should make sure that you are staying somewhere central, unless you have your car or are hiring one. Daniel and I unfortunately are too young to hire a car without paying hefty premiums, so we had to rely on the bus system. We arrived on a Sunday, and shuttle bus services from the airport only run Monday to Friday, so straight up we were slugged $35 for a taxi to our motel in Watson.
Once we were settled into our motel we decided we might as well travel into town for early conference registration, but being a Sunday there were limited bus services and we could find no Sunday timetables. Not wanting to wait we decided to start walking into town. So 7 kilometres later we had sore feet and bad tempers, but we were in the city. We found the Australian National University, and the appropriate building and Daniel registered and picked up his Linux swag.
With the difficult part out of the way we decided that it was now time to have some fun, so we met up with my friend Amanda who is living in Canberra for a year while she completes a scholarship with Questacon.(the children's science museum) Thankfully she lives only a block from the University, so we went up to her place for a well deserved rest.
As soon as Daniel heard that there are no pokies at the Canberra Casino, he decided that we must go check it out as he loathes poker machines. So Amanda lead the way but when we got there we looked at the card tables with much trepidation, because unlike Melbourne they did not seem to have special tables for beginners. None of us had the nerve to try our luck at the tables, so we made a bee-line for the bar. A few beers later Daniel was itching to have a bet of some kind seeing as we were in a casino, so he settled for a bet on the horses. Call it beginners luck, or whatever you want, his horse 'Cam's Atom' came in first, and he won enough to shout us dinner.
Choosing dinner however was not so simple, we could not make up our minds. We did consider some restaurants, but some were just over the top expense wise, and others seemed a bit too fancy for us (whatever happened to margherita pizza). In the end we settled on a local cafe, and dined on chicken burgers and pizza, it was yummy.
The third and most important thing to consider in Canberra especially if you are staying for several days, is to make sure that the place you are staying is comfortable and up to your standards. When hunting out accommodation never rely solely on reviews from the Internet, because sometimes they can be purposefully misleading.
The place that Daniel and I are staying at is the Red Cedars Motel in Watson, it was advertised as being a 3 star motel, personally I would not even rate it 2 stars. The reasons being that it is extremely close to a highway so all night you can listen to the symphony of traffic, the room is small with very thin walls and the bathroom totally inadequate. There is no shower curtain even though it is open on one side, very weak water pressure, and no fan or ventilation. We also especially inquired about cooking facilities, and we were assured that we would have adequate equipment. We were sorely disappointed when all that meant was a microwave, toaster and one electric cook-top. The motel was my choice, and Daniel was very displeased with the place, and has not ceased reminding me just how bad it is.
Well the mini-conferences are now over, and the Official 'Linux Conference Australia' begins tomorrow and so does the partner's program. I can't wait because I have been a little bit bored over the last two days, (especially when Dan was at lectures, and my friend at Uni) I attempted to find some attractions to amuse myself, but mostly I got lost. It will be nice to have organised and set things to do, while being ferried from place to place.
The meeting point for the partners' program was at the rear of the Manning Clark building, and we were to be there by 8 am. Daniel came with me even though he didn't start for another hour. Due to circumstances beyond their control the organisers were not ready until after 9 am, so Daniel and I surfed the Web while we waited.
Finally they were ready and we were on our way, some of us in the mini-bus the rest in the Tarago. There were wives, children and girlfriends, some that had come from overseas, a pretty odd bunch really. However we all had one thing in common, our partners were attending Linux Conference Australia.
Our first stop was in Canberra City, at Gus' Cafe for breakfast. This was a great opportunity to get to know each other, and find out where everyone is from over a yummy hot cooked breakfast. (yummy that is except for the onions) Unfortunately because of the delay in getting going for the day, and also slow food service we were well behind on our schedule. So we hurried off to our next attraction, the National Capital Exhibition, where the organisers issued us with our Linux swag. I was quite impressed with my back-pack, t-shirt, drink bottle, travel coffee mug and stubby holder.
Unfortunately we did not have a lot of time to spend at the National Capital Exhibition Centre, but it was extremely interesting. Basically the place was set up according to Canberra's history, in a time-line format. There was a lot of information about the formation of the unique city, and why there was a need for a neutral National Capital. Time was running away however and we were eager to move on to our next destination, 'Poachers Pantry' where we were to have lunch.
The drive to Poachers Pantry was a lovely scenic drive and about half an hour later we were driving on the unsealed road, that leads up to the property. Poachers Pantry is a smokehouse that specialises in gourmet meats. A couple of the ladies on the program did not turn up today, because being vegetarians the idea of going to a smokehouse was not appealing. The rest of us however were looking forward to a delicious lunch, sitting outside in the sunshine.
There were lots of children on the partners' program, because of course some of the partners have children. There were only a few of us without kids, we were the minority but we had our own grown-ups program, where we split off from the families for some more grown-up activities. We were all to have lunch together, and then the groups were to split after lunch. The children were excited by the welcoming committee at lunch, two lovely dogs, and there was plenty of room for them to play and run. Before lunch Lynne and I (the only smokers) sneaked away from the group for a nicotine fix, and a bit of a break.
We arrived back just in time for some wine-tasting, and a sample of the lovely homemade smoked meats. The wines were diverse, but distinctive of the area, with dry smoky flavours and the meats tasty and lean. Already feeling a bit full, out comes dinner, a smoked salmon fillet with potato and salad is what I chose, it was absolutely gorgeous.
Time was still an issue, and it looked like the children would have to miss the National Dinosaur Museum. The children and mothers were ferried off to Cockington Green (an exhibition miniature town set in landscaped gardens), and the unencumbered adults; Lynne, Katherine, Suz, Luda and myself headed off for some wine-tasting in the Murrambateman region. The wines that I sampled were very dry, and this I do not like with whites but a few of the reds were divine. Especially a shiraz I tried at the second place that we went, and I was tempted to buy. Unfortunately Daniel and I had no bottle opener with us, and I felt dubious about it remaining intact in our air luggage on the way home to Melbourne.
On the way back to the University where our day had begun, we stopped at Gold Creek Village for a look. Gold Creek Village is a tourist resort with accommodation, attractions and souvenir type shops. Being already after 5 pm most of it was shut so we just had a look from the car. Kristy our organiser described its existence and location as Canberra's ingenious means of keeping tourists out of the way in a controlled, safe environment.
I met back up with Daniel about half past 5, and he suggested that we go to the Wig and Pen Tavern. He was hoping to meet up with some guys he had met at the conference. The guys were not at the pub yet so Daniel and I had a few quiet drinks while we were waiting. Soon enough his mates turned up and they were all talking tech stuff so I slipped into the corner with a drink and my book. Wig and Pen was a great (I recommend for anyone who visits Canberra) because they brew some of their own exotic beers- and it was interesting to try a few of them.
Day two of the partners' program looked like it was going to be a bit tedious, but at least we didn't have to meet up until 9 am. First stop was the Royal Australian Mint, which was interesting as well as informative, but I was glad that we did not stay very long. I made sure I bought an official un-circulated dollar coin before I left as a collectible souvenir of my visit.
Next was a visit to the new Parliament House. We were all subjected to a stringent security routine, similar to that of airports before we could gain entry. We were a bit late so we had missed the tour group that we were meant to join. However the programs' helper Catherine had at one time worked as a tour guide there, so she began showing us the points of interest. She took us to see the 'Great Hall Tapestry' which was based on a painting by Australian artist Arthur Boyd, AC, OBE. Measuring 20 by 9 metres it is on of the largest tapestries in the world, and took a team of 13 weavers almost 1 and a half years to complete. We also saw some art displays and had a general look around the spectacular building. One of Catherine's old workmates recognised her, so she offered to do a lightning quick tour of the House of Representatives and the Senate. This was particularly interesting but also a bit confusing for our overseas visitors who had little idea how our system of Government works.
For the next part of the day we had a choice of the National Portrait Gallery or the Australian National Library. Being a bookish person I chose the latter – even though it was part of the 'family thing' program. The National Library was great, we were able to have a look down below at the stacks collection – which consists of so many books that the shelves are compacted and are moved electronically to gain access. Most exciting of all we saw 'Charlie' which is a robotic book trolley, that travels through the library to upstairs to deliver books that people have requested. Of course requests are submitted electronically now through email, but we had a look at the old pipes system. In years past you had to fill out a request form then a librarian would send it via the pipes downstairs, for the order to be processed.
By the conclusion of our tour our stomachs were grumbling and with good reason – it was well after one o'clock, and we had also stumbled across a staff luncheon in the library. The smell of the food was driving us crazy, so we headed directly to the Bookplate Cafe where we were supposed to have lunch. Being so late though most of the desirable lunch options had been devoured, and there was little choice. Unanimously we decided to take our chances, and have a 'kiddie' lunch at Questacon. It wasn't flash but it revived us for the places that we were to go to next.
After lunch we had a choice of staying at Questacon, or going to the National Gallery of Australia. This time I picked the the adult program and went off to the Art Gallery. I really enjoyed the Art Gallery because as well as having a lot of Australian works displayed, both old and new, they also had an extensive overseas collection. I especially thought the post-modern pieces and art deco were great, unique and different each in their own way. There just wasn't enough time to see everything.
For a day that I thought would be dead boring, it wasn't so bad. To finish off we were dropped off at the Canberra Centre for some shopping. Afterwards I walked back to the University to meet Daniel, and we set off to my friend, Amanda's place. We ordered Chinese food, which Amanda and I collected from Garema Place and brought back to eat. The food was yummy and we had a great night in, just hanging out with Amanda, until we went back to our motel for some rest.
The next day we were both feeling very tired because we were having such busy and hectic days. Luckily though waiting at our bus stop, clutching the clothes that we had to change into for the Penguin Dinner that night, a car slowed down and stopped. It was a Conference Organiser also heading to the University, who noticed our badges, and offered to give us a lift because he could get free parking if he had three or more people in the car. We certainly didn't mind helping out, it was better than waiting in the cold for a bus that takes a much longer route. We got to the University with plenty of time to drop off our clothes for later at Amanda's place.
In the tradition of the last few days we were still rushing from place to place. First we went to the National Museum of Australia, where we saw the interactive show 'Circa'. It was fabulous, it showed heaps of both beautiful and tragic footage of everyday Australian life, and was set out out on many screens that moved around. It was a very moving display that made the viewer feel many different emotions; happiness, sadness, elation and pride, pity they didn't show any credits though. I would have liked to see the names of the people who put the display together. We only had a very limited time to look at the other artifacts, but it was extremely funny to show Sandy, who was from Belgium the Australian animal displays. She was quite taken by our extremely unique platypus.
Next we were off to Blundell's Cottage, this was one of the places I was really looking forward to seeing. Blundell's Cottage is one of the oldest buildings in Canberra, and was built about 1860 by the Campbell family. The Campbell family were merchants, and they built many cottages to house their workers. The Blundell family lived there for many years, and it is still standing mostly as it was. Of course the historical society have filled it up with furniture and knick knacks that are not original to the house, but are typical of the time when it was built. I felt that the displays were very accurate and concise of a time well and truly gone past, just like stepping back into history.
Before heading off to the Australian War Memorial we went up to Mount Ainslie for a photo opportunity. It was a very scenic spot where you could see Parliament House and Anzac Parade spread out below, so I took a couple of photos of the amazing view. Then it was straight to the War Memorial, which was also a place I was keen to check out. The moment I stepped in the place I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness, knowing that the displays represent battle, death, courageousness and patriotism. I took some photos of war planes, dioramas and of course 'the eternal flame'.(unfortunately I had my finger over the lens) The thing that struck me the most was a painting by Will Longstaff, entitled 'Menin Gate at midnight (Ghosts of Menin Gate)'. It was situated in a dark room with just spotlights illuminating it, and at first glance just looked like a beautiful painting, but on closer inspection it was quite creepy. What you at first perceive as just cornfields, actually shows up the wispy figures of steel helmeted ghosts, representing the soldiers who lost their lives there.
I met Daniel back at the University and we headed off to Amanda's place to get ready for the Penguin Dinner. We believed that the dinner was formal and we dressed up considerably, we soon felt very overdressed as people began to arrive at the Union Refectory(Uni Bar), because most had taken the casual approach. The dinner was a very casual buffet, that I did not think was worth $60, I hope some of the proceeds went to charity. I drank a few wines early in the night, that coupled with the heat of the room, and the amount of people in the room made me feel queasy and I spent a lot of time outside in the fresh air. Daniel got a bit angry with me, accusing me of being drunk, so as there were pool tables, I challenged him to a game to prove my innocence. The pool tables were over in the corner where it was not so crowded and I immediately felt better. I insisted that I would win, and lo and behold I did, which shut him up very quickly.
By 11 pm they were kicking us all out of the Uni Bar, however a lot of the boys were continuing on to the Wig and Pen Tavern. I didn't feel like going so Daniel went off with the boys, and I walked to University House with Lynne, where she was staying, and we had coffee and a few cigarettes and good chat.(funny we both had to carry our partner's heavy laptop bags) Lynne kindly drove me back to the motel which was extremely nice of her.(I just hope her partner wasn't annoyed about how late it was) Overall it was a lovely evening, the highlights being Pia's helium induced 'Rubber Ducky' number, and the runaway wineglass that was attached to balloons, flying around overhead.
Well the week had certainly gone fast, and it was finally Saturday the last day of the conference and partners' program, as well as our last night in Canberra. Daniel and I were both thoroughly tired and quite ready to go home. We reached the University for the last time and went our separate ways, myself meeting up with the partners' program group. Our first stop was the Telstra Tower which rises 195 metres above the summit of Black Mountain, allowing 360 degree views of Canberra and the surrounding rural region. There were two observation decks open to the public where you could gaze around and take photos.(you wouldn't want to suffer from vertigo though) However I did find this attraction a bit dull, partly because I had forgotten my camera, and mostly because I was eager to head onto the next place we were going, the National Zoo and Aquarium.
If there is something I love more than going to the zoo, then I don't know what it is. I was looking forward to seeing the tigons as well as the penguins.(especially Tux the Linux sponsored penguin) Lynne, Mirabelle and myself checked out the tigons, then went on to the penguins where there is actually a sign that explains why Linus Torvalds chose the penguin as the Linux mascot, Mirabelle particularly enjoyed this because she adores penguins. After a barbecue lunch we went to the Lion Talk, where we were given the opportunity to feed a lion for $10.(money proceeds going to the big cat fund) Karen and Robert, Suz and myself decided that this was an opportunity not to miss, and so partook in the feeding of the lion. Of course we were safely behind a high steel fence, and armed with tongs. The lion was well behaved and ate the meat we proffered delicately, it was an awesome experience.(wish I had of remembered the camera)
After the Lion Talk we still had about half an hour to wonder around, and as the others were feeling sluggish, Katherine and I headed off in search of the cougars. We also had a look at the aquarium which housed all kinds of tropical fish, sharks, amphibians and reptiles. I was happy to see some snakes, but they were mostly harmless pythons, and none of the deadly snakes that I would have liked to have seen.
Eventually we found our way to the cougars, taking in the otters and the monkeys on the way. It was a fantastic little zoo, nothing compared to Melbourne Zoo of course, but still offering an interesting and informative outing.(wish they had panthers and meerkats though)
Linux Conference Australia was coming to a close, and so was the partners' program. We concluded by having coffee at Valentino's Cafe in Canberra City. Sitting outside, sipping my iced coffee, trying not to blow my cigarette smoke on the non-smokers, I felt that I really gotten to know these people. The last few days had been really lovely, and I had met some terrific people. The partners' program. though at times hectic and chaotic, was a great experience. It was great hanging out with women who also have 'geek partners', because none of my family or friends understand what it is like to have a 'tech geek' partner. I would definitely consider joining Dan for the conference, and doing the partners' program again, because we had a lot of fun. However I do believe that the organisers should be careful not to squeeze in too many activities, because there were a few places we visited such as the National Art Gallery and the National Museum of Australia, that I could have easily spent more time at.
I would like to specially thank Kristy our splendid organiser, and Catherine and Jenny our wonderful helpers. They were at all times patient, friendly and helpful, and did their utmost to make sure that we all had a good time. And thank you also to all the lovely ladies, and their children that I met through the program. The quality of the people involved was immeasurable, and I hope that we do stay in contact via email.
Daniel and I left Canberra the next day, catching a flight back to Melbourne. We saw Karen and her family at the airport who were going onto Sydney, and also Katherine and her partner.(they were on the same flight home as us) Daniel and I were glad that we were going home, Canberra is nice but we wouldn't want to live there, and their water tastes awful. The flight home was uneventful, no headaches this time because I was further away from the propeller. We were just so glad to be home, to our families and cats, however the prospect of going back to work loomed, and we were absolutely worn out. Luckily the day after was ANZAC Day(public holiday) so we had the day off, and got a decent sleep-in.

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