Debconf 10 - arrival and first days

I had planned long for this Debconf and with the experience from the previous times I did all I could to reach one goal - minimise stress. I think I got it right this time.

First of all I got my company (Accenture) pay for the whole thing, so I did not have to worry about sponsorship queue (but instead I must gather and deliver them back some knowledge gained from the conference - should be easy). I also managed to get a direct flight - there is a weekly flight Tashkent-Riga-New York on Sundays and I got a ticket for that both ways. This took many hours off the travel time and reduced the stress a ton. Then I also did all the prudent travelling things: mostly reading the New York page on Wikitravel. This told me (among other things) what metro line to take to get the best view of the city. And for luggage I took a backpack (for the laptop and walking around) and a roller (for the clothes). I learned a lot from the "Up in the air" movie, it really teaches one how to take stress out of travel.

This went very well in the beginning - I took a bus to the airport early, checked in, breezed trough security and then waited and waited. The boarding only started half an hour after we were scheduled to depart. But I can not complain, because the flight attendant called my name (among a few others) just before boarding and changed my ticket - I was bumped up to business class :). It has been many years since I've flown a regular (non-budget) airline and now first time ever in the business class! We got regular class meals, but at least we got to sit in the big chairs with lots of leg room. It was great! I bought a paper book (from Charles Stross) to read during the flight, because that is the only thing you can do during take-off and landing and I had some stuff to listen to in my iPhone. I tried sleeping and I think I managed to kill a couple hours that way too. It sure helped combat jet lag later on.

When I arrived, I had my immigration and customs forms filled out. Latvia is on the USA Visa Waiver program, so I just had to fill out a form online prior to the trip to get a permission to enter USA. I only had one printout of the Waiver confirmation page and my airline took that before giving me a boarding pass, so I had no paper copy to give to the guy at the USA border, but he did not even ask for it - he only took the two forms I filled out, scanned my passport, took my fingerprints (all fingers) and a photo. Then he gave me back the customs for (stamped) and I could go get my luggage. After that it was just a matter of walking trough customs and giving the customs official the pre-filled and stamped customs form. I was not stopped further.

The AirTrain was a bit confusing - you just get on the AirTrain and go where you need to go, you actually pay at the place where AirTrain connects to metro, so when you are coming from the airport you are actually paying ($5) when you are exiting the AirTrain system. There are plenty of AirTrain people that will give you an AirTrain ticked for $5 cash right there or you can use a machine to get it (where you can also pay with a card). The machines also take AmEx, but you must know the PIN code, if your don't know the PIN of you AmEx card (like I don't know the PIN of my corporate AmEx) you can only buy MetroCards at news stands, but there you will not find the unlimited ride tickets - only 5 or 10 ride tickets are available.

Next I screwed up a bit and thus got a bit lost in the New York metro system. The Wikitravel recommends to take the AirTrain to Jamaica station and from there take J or Z line into the city for the best views. I went to Jamaica and got into the first metro train that came on to the platform. Unfortunately, that was the E line train and it does not cross with J or Z lines after that, so I was stuck. To complicate the situation E line is under repair, so after a few stops the trains diverted to the F line and I had to scramble to figure out where to get out to get to the 1 line where Columbia University is. I ended up spending more than an hour in the metro, but I got there in the end.

So I emerge from the 116th street metro station directly in front of the campus entrance gate and ... it starts raining. A thunderstorm swept across New York as soon as I stepped outside the metro station, so I took shelter a the side of the building. It kept raining. After a few minutes decided that I don't want to wait any more, so I put all my electronics into my backpack and went towards the dorm where my room was. The rain was warm, people around me were playing and running around in the wet grass, it was fun.

The guard showed me where to go to check in. It was really simple - sign here, here is you magnetic stripe key, have fun. And the room was just as spartan - bed, desk, chair, closet, bathroom and a large fan under the window. The first night I did not know that I could actually turn that fan down, so I slept to the sound of full fan blasting, much like on the airplane. The dorm looks ancient - it looks like it was build in the 60s and never changed since then. I mean, I've lived in worse places, but people would at least change wall sockets or faucets or ceiling paint every other decade or so. The newest things here were the magnetic locks on the doors and a TV and a mini fridge in the hallway.

After dropping my things I went off to the Mudd building across the campus to check in with people in the hacklab. It was just starting to take shape, but many great and familiar people were already there. It was like walking into a family home - same warm welcome smiles and that great feel of belonging to the group.

After I quick chat I went off downtown. The plan was that I left my old Canon 400D camera back at home and that I would buy a new Canon 550D here in New York on arrival. Unfortunately I underestimated the travel time on subway and by the time I got back downtown most shops where already closed. I got to checking out a Best Buy and was told there that they don't have 550D in stock. Next morning I went for a full scale search - B&H Photo Video store, J&R Express, another BestBuy - none of them had the Canon 550D (aka T2i) in stock in a body-only configuration. BestBuy had a few sets with the kit lens, but I did not want paying 100$ extra for something I already have. The last option was Adorama and I got lucky - I nabbed the last 550D they had and it was body-only.

Now I was back, with a camera in my hands and the Debconf10 could really begin!