Thursday, May 21, 2015

ICPE 2015, City of Austin - Part 1

This post is all about my impressions of my trip to Austin TX for ICPE '15 and the city in general. I have covered details about the conference itself in other posts.
ICPE 2015, Getting Published with ACM, and Performance Management
Book Club - Foundations of Software and System Performance Engineering

Dear Austin Texas - your town motto seems incredibly appropriate. I'm not referring to your official motto of "Live Music Capital of the World", though that was abundantly evident as well, I mean the unofficial one "Keep Austin Weird."

Flying to Austin is weird. Flying to Austin on the afternoon of Superbowl Sunday on a plane that is running an hour late and half-filled with Texan transplants that know they aren't going to land before kickoff is more so. Especially for a true-blood Canadian who reserves such passion for games that don't prominently feature an attention hogging rhythm impaired southpaw shark.

But the weirdness started earlier than that. For a city that is the capitol of the largest state in the lower 48 and the second-largest population, a city that boasts an international reputation as a cultural hub, it is hard to get to. I only had two real options booking my flight from Winnipeg (YWG) to Austin (AUS) if I wanted to avoid an overnight layover (I did) or arriving late at night and risking a delay causing me to be late for the start of ICPE '15 on Monday morning (also yes). Since I was travelling on February 1st from Winnipeg, delays or cancellations were very much a possibility. The two options I did have were to leave at 6:30am (please arrive at the airport two hours before departure if you are flying internationally) with a 6 hour layover in Minneapolis (MSP) before arriving in the early afternoon. Or leave at 7:30am with short layovers (less than an hour) in Edmonton (YEG), and Los Angeles (LAX) before arriving at dinnertime.

In the interests of not flying a circuitous route around half the continent and potentially missing flights in two different airports, I chose the earlier departure. After arriving and puttering around the Minneapolis airport for a number of hours I went to my departure gate early where the staff let us know that the flight was going to be a half-hour late. Half an hour later it was now an hour late. Shortly after that when our original departure time arrived they let us know that although we were schedule to fly on Delta - someone along the way failed to realize that we would require an actual airplane in order to do so... and that they would try to find a new airplane to replace the non-existent one that we had been scheduled to fly on, but we would be facing further delays or possible cancellation.


Fortunately they were able to discover an airplane in Wichita that we could use. I won't claim to understand the logistics of airline flight scheduling, but when the plane from Wichita arrived it proceeded to unload a full compliment of passengers. I'm not sure if the passengers were intending to come to Minneapolis, or if they were merely abducted in order to justify providing us with transportation, but either way - we had a plane, and one that managed to arrive in Austin less than half an hour ahead of the flight from LAX.

To give you a little context about my experience arriving in Austin, let me tell you a little about myself. I have never been "south". I've never traveled overseas, never been to Mexico, or Cuba, or on any kind of warm vacation. I've driven coast-to-coast in Canada, put my feet in the Pacific Ocean in Victoria BC, and in the Atlantic along the red sand beaches of PEI. But the absolute furthest south I have ever been is Gary Indiana - just at the very tip of Lake Michigan. I have never been anywhere that doesn't have snow in February. When I left home at 4-something in the morning in a sweater and a windbreaker the temperature was -26 C (windchill of -44 C) and when I arrived in Austin it was +23 C, an apparent difference of 67 C (or 120 F), a change roughly equivalent of that experienced by mall shoppers in Florida when they exit the building on a summer's day. In fact, the day before it was just as cold and I managed to snap a picture of the most brilliant sun dogs I have ever witnessed.

In Austin I stayed at the Hyatt Place Austin Downtown which is a beautiful hotel in the heart of downtown across from the Convention Center and just a few blocks from 6th street, congress avenue bridge, and easy walking distance to the Capitol. The accommodations were fantastic, the staff were wonderful (and one of whom I discovered was an expat from Winnipeg no less), and they put me on the top floor facing east which gave me an amazing view of the morning sunrise.

Upon my arrival, seeing that I was in Texas I heeded that age old proverb about the Romans - and I turned on the Super Bowl just in time to see the halftime show which proved to be more baffling than I expected. Alas, as I was busy doing my final preparations for ICPE I was watching it in my room while I worked, so I had no one to translate for me - but I gather that one of Katy Perry's dancing sharks was some kind of fortune teller that was predicting the apocalypse that would be brought about by an enormous lion? But I may have gotten that wrong. I did though appreciate the amazingly entertaining final 5 minutes of the 4th quarter (7 hours in real time) which was about as dramatic an ending to a game as I have ever seen. It's just a pity that Russell Wilson wasn't using the punctured bicycle tire that Brady was playing with or that last interception might not have happened.

Link to Part 2.

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