Diary of a geek

January 2006
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Andrew Pollock

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Sunday, 15 January 2006

First outing on the train

We caught the Caltrain to San Francisco yesterday, and it was our first train ride so far.

I have a bit of a childhood interest in trains, so it is always fun for me to compare and contrast the differences in rail systems that I see around the place.

Ticketing

There are these huge ticket machines, where you purchase a ticket before boarding the train. Fares a calculated on how many zones you travel in. So you have to consult a map of the line (it's just a single line) and work that out first. The machines take cash or a credit/debit card, with the usual disturbing lack of authentication for the latter.

The tickets themselves are just a piece of card. There's no magnetic stripe or anything. The 10 ride tickets are also just a piece of card, from what I could tell. You "validate" them before riding by putting them in a gadget the essentially chops a portion of the side of the ticket off.

The trains themselves

I can't remember precisely, but I don't believe there were power-lines over the track. I'm pretty sure we had a diesel-hauled train. The engine on one that went in the opposite direction was certainly big and noisy.
The cars are double-decker. Upstairs is pretty unusual. They are single-seats on either side of of an open void through to downstairs. There's a stainless steel shelf that runs the length of upstairs at about chest-height for putting luggage on, and below that you can see right through to downstairs. (I later discovered that this allowed a ticket inspector to walk down the aisle downstairs and view everyones tickets on both levels).
The seats were all high-backed. The whole thing had a "long-distance" feel about it. There was a baggage car. You could take your bike on board (so, like the light rail, I think we'll do some cycling tours of places further away than what we'd directly cycle to).

Ticket inspection

Speaking of ticket inspectors, on the ride in, there were none (though there did seem to be hoards of roaming Caltrain employees wandering up and down the train), and on alighting at the station, no one checked our tickets on the way out, and there were no barriers or anything. You just wander in and out of the station as you pleased. Frankly, I was quite amazed. We did have a very diligent ticket inspector on trip back.

Speed

Definitely not the fasted thing in the world. We had all-stops trains both ways, and it took about an hour and a quarter. But it was fairly cheap, compared to driving and parking: $10.50 for a "day-pass" (what I'd called a "return").

[08:52] [life/americania] [permalink]

Camp SysAdmin

It's a very unfortunate name for something held in San Francisco...

Yesterday, Rick (who's visiting for a week or so because he has an interview) and I went to Camp SysAdmin in San Francisco. I didn't really know what to expect, but it was free, and it had two names I recognised: Eric Allman of Sendmail fame, and Ethan Galstad, author of Nagios. That was good enough for me.

It was a fairly unstructured event. We arrived a bit late because we just missed the train we planned on catching, and the next one was an hour later. We seemed to have only missed the welcome, and everyone was just starting to break out into smallish discussion groups.

The groups were just round-table discussions about various topics, with the discussion leaders working through some stimulus material.

I'm not quite sure what the objective of the day was. I think Splunk, who were the main organisers of it, were using it as a gentle sales pitch for their product, which was cool, because I'd not heard of it before. They make a logfile correlation tool, of which there is a free version. It was kind of good timing, as I'd just spent a couple of days munging log files at work, so I'll find time to look into their product further.

I didn't directly gain a lot from the day (I attended the "Ops Collaboration: How data centre gurus work together when problems cross different domains" and "Troubleshooting messaging systems" discussions, however it was interesting to just listen to the discussions, and hear what people had to say. A lot of people were working at small start-ups (seems to be par for the course in the Bay Area) where they were the sole sysadmin for the entire place, which is a concept at the complete opposite end of the spectrum to what my job is like.

It was a good informal networking session, it wasn't too crowded, the food was good, and most importantly, it was completely free. I even scored a t-shirt for completing an anonymous survey.

The event was held in a wine-bar/art gallery place, which worked reasonably well. They had a wine and cheese social networking session at the end. The whole event was run very well.

[08:32] [tech] [permalink]