Saturday, June 16, 2007

Teaching in Austin

This week marked my first visit to Austin, TX. Guru Labs flew me out to Austin to teach the Linux Fundamentals class. To be honest, I was pretty nervous. Not so much about the class itself, really. I was nervous about driving in Texas. The only thing I knew about it was that supposedly signalling a lane change was a sign to other drivers to make every effort to cut you off and keep you from actually moving over. As it turns out, this only happened once, and the guy that did it was some redneck that was erratically driving a rusty old pickup. Unfortunately for him, as soon as I saw what he was about to do, my mind dropped into Boston gear and I made my move. His failure seemed to phase him less than a fruitfly. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

My trip started with an hour delay while I waited for my plane to arrive from San Francisco. The plane was small and cramped, and I ended up sitting next to a guy who seemed as interested in talking to me as I was to talk to him. The extent of our conversation occurred when I had to ask him to move so that I could make my way to the cramped restroom. The in-flight meal consisted of drink service, and my "Grilled Cheese Crackers" were as disappointing as my spicy tomato juice. That's okay, it was about what I expected.

The flight itself was uneventful, as were my dealings with the car rental agency when I got there. My itinerary said I was relegated to a compact car, and my mind was already imagining the tiny mid-90's Geo Metro that my old roommate used to drive. Imagine my surprise when I found a Chevy Malibu in the parking space that matched my keychain. Almost as surprising was that it seemed to bear no resemblance to the car that I had always associated with Barbie. It had excellent handling and mileage, and I only had to fill it up once, on the way to return it.

Finding my hotel did not work so well. My Google Map directions were vague, and my familiarity with the Austin road system was non-existant. I was quickly lost, and when I found a hotel that I thought was the Austin Hotel Courtyard, I discovered it was actually the South Austin one. The training center was a good 20 minute drive from my intended hotel, so I thought I'd ask if they could call the NW Austin Courtyard and squeeze me in. They told me it shouldn't be a problem, as the NW location was currently only at 45% capacity. They printed me clear directions and I was on my way. When I arrived, I discovered that the NW location was indeed at 45% capacity for that night, but was overbooked for Tuesday and Wednesday nights. Worse, my first night at the airport location was already paid for and non-refundable. I drove over to the training center so that I would know how to find it, and then found my way back to the airport location.

During this adventure, the three locations called each other a few times. When I arrived at my intended hotel, I was warmly greeted by the woman at the desk. I told her I was checking in, and that my name was Hall, and she brightened with recognition and said, "ah, Mr. Hall!" I checked in, called the wife, called the boss, and walked over to the Waffle House which shared the parking lot.

The Waffle House is a chain which is not to be found in any place in Utah that I've ever been. It had a small-time diner feel, especially the waitresses. I doubt there were much more than a couple dozen seats in the whole place, many of which faced into the open kitchen. I ordered a nice southern-looking meal, adding a slice of pecan pie to my order. I looked on the credit card receipt for a tip line, which I always cross out when ordering takeout, and didn't see one. The waitress knew better, and when I handed the signed receipt back to her, she pointed out where it was and informed me that I should always write a big zero there and cross it through the middle (which I always do). She started talking about some report that she had seen on the news, where some waitress had filled in some unearthly amount in that space and made themselves a huge little tip. I thanked her for her advice and headed back to my hotel room to enjoy my meal and turn in for the night.

Monday found me in adrenaline mode. Things went wrong, as often happens on the beginning day of such events, and I had to keep on my toes in order to stay ahead. I left my hotel at six in the morning, in an effort to avoid morning rush hour. I skipped breakfast, partly because I was apparently staying at the one Courtyard by Marriott which charges for continental breakfast, and partly because they didn't even open until 6:30am. Nothing was open near the training center except for the vending machines, and my energy for the day came from a can of Dr. Pepper and a bag of BBQ chips. I was so worn out by the end of the day that for dinner, I just stopped by the gas station next to the hotel and picked up a couple of cheap taquitos, a couple of candy bars (one for emergencies) and a bottle of Gatorade.

The next day I finally discovered that the training center had their own continental breakfast, and that would become the source of my breakfasts and lunches for the remainder of the week. The training center, St. Edward's Learning Center, was awesome. They were nothing but helpful with my technical issues, even going so far as to bring in a second projector when they decided that the one in there wouldn't meet my needs. Of course, you could immediately tell that they were going to be good. All three of the guys that I worked with had beards.

One of these bearded men, whom we will call Ed, looked vaguely familiar to me. A lot of people do, so I ignored it. I found out later that week that I very well might have seen him before, launching rockets on the Discovery Channel. Apparently amateur rocketry is a huge hobby of his, and his collection of stand mixers that made me intensely jealous is used entirely for mixing rocket fuel.

I know I should have gotten out and sampled the local cuisine. I was going to, really! But then I discovered a place called World Market, which had gourmet foods in the back. I also discovered a Whole Foods store nearby, and between them and a local grocery store, I may very well have spent over $100 on different chocolates. I also bought some excellent olive oils which I had to ship back home, because the terrorists have successfully kept me from bringing them onto the plane. And to think one of the bottles was Morraccan too. Terrorists suck.

The class that I taught was a lot of fun. Due to certain errors (none of which, thankfully, were the fault of me or my company), I only had five students. Two of them sat right up front, and regular messed up their own and each other's computers, both intentionally and accidentally. They were a lot of fun. They were always the first ones there, and generally the last ones to leave. They seemed to like playing with Linux so much that they both went home and downloaded OpenSUSE and started installing it. I suspect they might download Ubuntu before too long and install it as well. On the last day, they managed to track down my Ubuntu cookies, without me ever mentioning them. One of them became fascinated with the concept of Ice Weasel, and took notes on where to download it and how to compile it, just so that he could tweak with his Linux friends who were still running Firefox.

On the first day, I told the class that not all Linux/Unix geeks were crusty old men with beards; just the more attractive ones. I'm still not really sure why they all laughed. Stuart thought that I must have had something funny behind me, and one of our salespeople told me that they were probably just jealous of my beard. Whatever the source, I think everybody involved had fun during the class, at least at some point. I certainly enjoyed teaching it.

There were two things that I came to realize while I was teaching the class. First of all, it can be really difficult sometimes helping a person understand a concept that can really be forein to them. A couple of students were extremely new to Linux, and our fundamentals class probably goes at least a little more in-depth than most. But, as I came to fully realize during the class, helping that person understand such a thing is very likely the most rewarding thing about teaching it. I always thought that spending all day in Linux would be a dream job. As it turns out, giving somebody else the knowledge and ability to do so is even better.

Now I'm sitting in the Austin Airport waiting for my flight. By the time I post this, I will probably have been home for several hours. I can't wait until the next class that I get to teach. I think I like being a trainer.

1 comment:

  1. Well I could use some obtuse online name such as "suddenly obsessed with IceWeasel" but I'll go by Dave instead. :) Joseph was a great instructor and I enjoyed my first exposure to Linux. It's great to see an IT world outside of the Windows oligarchy. (esspecially one that predates Bill)

    The next time Joseph comes to Austin hehas got to try some of our world class restaurants. Or my wife could make him a home cooked meal. She is an IT manager and when she found out he went to the same same culinary school in Dover, NH she said "If I weren't married I'd want to meet this guy". I was like great I in competition with my Unix instructor. :)

    I did get Ice Weasel downloaded, unzipped, untarred but for the life of me I cannot get it compiled and installed. I can actually run it from the iceseasel.sh but that's not the way to do it. The README's don't provide alot of help for someone that is new2gnu. I will keep at it as it's a good challenge for me. Any suggestions of course, greatly appreciated.

    Hopefully Joseph will come back to Austin for the Advanced Linux and we can steer him to some to die for barbecue down here.

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