Coke, Cherry Blossoms, and Cha Cha Cha


Sitting next to Peter and gazing out at the Washington Monument, I realized that there weren't too many better ways to end my VISTA service than flying up the Potomac.  Just an hour earlier, I had been in a scowling mood, but the D. C. evening skyline changed that pretty quickly.

For those who weren't there, the NTEN (Non-profit Technology Network) Conference was a smashing success.  People from both sides of the Atlantic came to Washington to sip beer, talk tech, and figure out how to use technology to benefit society.  I was fortunate enough to meet people from California, Illinois, New York, Manchester, London, and D. C. itself.  Washington had splendid weather, and the cherry blossoms were in bloom.

Everyone showed up in Washington on Tuesday, April 3rd and had the day to themselves.  We of the CSL persuasion flew into Washington, but got a bit lost on the way to the hotel.  We had a rough idea of where we were going on the Metro, but weren't sure at which stop to leave.  I ended up calling my mom to find out.  Thank goodness for cell phones!  And after we got off, we still walked three or four blocks in the wrong direction!  Remember, folks: water runs downhill.

I don't know how the Project decided on dinner, but they had found an Indian restaurant within walking distance of the hotel and made reservations for that Tuesday night.  We walked over, chatted for a bit, then lined up family-style and plunged in.

I woke up the next morning to a two-dollar bottle of Coke and a two-dollar muffin.  Hotels, like airports, seem to operate on an economy of convenience: it's convenient for you not to leave the hotel, so it's convenient for the hotel to charge you $2 for your morning fix.  If only everything in the hotel were $2....

 Wednesday's conference sessions went pretty well.  There was a CTC VISTA meeting in the afternoon, and the morning brought a good open-source development seminar.  The afternoon Science Fair was crazy--people stood behind tables in the hotel ballroom, hawking their wares and explaining what their companies offer.  The Project was kind enough to lend us space at their table, so the CSL got a good chance to show what it does.   The table's location was splendid: right next to the complimentary fajitas.

Mmmm.  Complimentary fajitas.  Free chocolate-covered macadamia nuts.  Not reasons unto themselves to come to a conference, but they were pretty nice after running on a coke and a muffin all day.  Cokes were $4, however!  In terms of tech freebies, the NTEN folks gave everyone a free USB pen drive (256 MB), and another organization was giving out free retractable Ethernet cables.  Special mention, however, must go to the Wilderness Technology Alliance and their Xeon processors.  We can find a good home for them--thank you!

I'm realizing that I've given very few words here to actual technology, and given quite a bit of space to the conference goings-on.  Most of the 4-5 conferences I've attended over the last couple of years have been this way--as much as they've been about technology, an equal focus has been on socializing and networking.  The conferences have been a chance to meet people, to eat good food, and to learn a little bit.  The NTEN conference, being in Washington, was also a chance to explore a new (for me) city.

After hitting a jazz jam session downtown (learned some new lyrics to "Song for My Father"), I found a 24-hour bookstore/cafe in Dupont Circle.  I learned that Washington's subways move faster than Boston's, and that you'd better know whether you're on West D Street or East D Street.  Also, seeing a long line to your museum of choice (Air and Space) doesn't mean you have to stand in it.  There may be another entrance!

On Thursday (the 5th), I jumped into a "Linux Laptop" session.  What fun!  Even though I didn't bring my laptop (running Debian Etch) with me, I helped two fellows learn their way around the latest version of Ubuntu Linux.  I must say that for non-programmers, the usability gap between Ubuntu and Windows is getting smaller.  If you're a programmer in anything except .NET or ASP, Ubuntu's far superior.

Thursday also marks the first occasion that I've been kicked out of a room party and slept with four other guys in the same hotel room (hostels don't count).  The NTEN folks were also nice enough to let all the VISTAs into their Thursday night Salsa party, where we had a good time acting silly and learning how to dance--the cha-cha-cha.

So Friday--and with apologies to The Cure, I was in love with Washington.  The lack of sleep hit me sometime Friday afternoon, but when Peter showed up as a last-minute passenger on our flight back to Boston, talking up a happy storm, and I saw the Capitol illuminated against the nighttime sky, post-VISTA life was pretty darned good.