Back in the fall of 1997, I was just beginning my third year of graduate school. Two years earlier, our research group had spent a hectic summer putting together a prototype version of our research system (Odyssey), and we spent the next year evaluating that system and writing up the results. Those results turned into the one and only academic research paper that has my name on it (although not as primary author). The paper was entitled "Agile Application Aware Adaptation for Mobility", and it was accepted at in the proceedings of the 16th ACM Symposium on Operating System Principles (or "SOSP" for short). This was a pretty big deal, since SOSP is one of the snooty-cool conferences in the operating systems arena. However, as part of a completely different story that I'll no doubt eventually tell, two years of soul-searching later saw me leaving graduate school, so having been published in this conference is no longer that relevant to me professionally. It remains relevant for one other substantial reason however:
...it was in France.
With the exception of the trip I am about to relate, the only foreign country I had ever been to (and to this day, have ever been to) was Canada. Canada (specifically, British Columbia) is a popular destination for kids who grow up in Oregon, especially if they participate in a musical group in high school. Bands and choirs from Oregon tend to take yearly trips to one of two different places: San Francisco and Vancouver, B.C. (There's a great side story here about tubas, moving vans, and techniques for international drug running, but I'll have to share that later.)
Given that, it was a source of great excitement to me when our advisor decided to dip into the giant, Scrooge McDuck-like vat of money that our relatively rich research group had, and to send all of the co-authors to the paper (five of us, since Satya, our advisor, decided not to go). Even more exciting, while the conference lasted only three days, we went for eight days, giving us (once you took out travel time) a couple of days on either side of the conference to kick around Gay Paree. With the exception of meals (and if I recall correctly, we even got a modest allowance for that), we were all getting an all-expenses trip to France, and you just can't beat that. This was probably the single biggest bennie I got from being a graduate student (although being able to say that I was in the Carnegie Mellon Ph.D. program hasn't hurt for finding jobs :).
I was determined to document my trip, and so I went to France armed with two things:
I used the Pilot to take notes (this is a small, handheld computer that accepts handwriting, for those who aren't familiar with the device), and the camera to take pictures. I regret that I didn't have the technology then that I do now -- I've since replaced the devices with a Pocket PC (which, besides having the capability to capture ink and accept a keyboard, also has sound recording capabilities) and a Kodak digital camera. This is especially true of the photographs, since I have (a) become a much better photographer in the last year, since having my digital camera, and (b) the digital camera would have given me the flexibility to toss out and retake some of the lousier shots. But, hey! C'est la viť.
The pictures that are included with the text below are scanned prints from 35mm film. The scanner is a HP T45 multifunction printer/fax/scanner that I use for my home office; as such, it's not a very good photo scanner, but then again, these aren't very good photos. Sadly, the middle of the three rolls of film I took is missing. The text was written in early 2001, three and a half years after the trip, but it is guided from the outline notes I jotted down on my Pilot back in 1997, and aided by my not quite creaky memory. From time to time, I have linked in a picture from someone else to illustrate something that I don't have a picture of my own for. These pictures are clearly credited.
Finally, all HTML was initially hand-done in Emacs, and completed in Front Page 2000, which doesn't do too shabby of a job.
Since pretty much everything was being taken care of (plane tickets, accommodations), I only had one major task to take care of -- get a passport. Crossing the Canadian border is not typically a big deal, so I had not yet had call to obtain one. I had had a haircut just before I got the passport picture taken, which has resulted in a passport picture that's a little scary looking:
On the left: Eric as "Heinrich." On the right: a more normal picture of my face.
The combination of the ultra-short hair, the inexplicable tint in my glasses, and the dour expression on my face, means that I look surprisingly like a German terrorist of some sort in my passport. Not the best thing ever, although happily, I have yet to be cavity-searched. I also have newer glasses these days than you see in the above pictures, which are wider than they are tall, and add to that "surly German intellectual" look. Especially now that I have the new glasses, Carrie has made me promise to never ever get my hair cut that short again.
There's not much to say about day zero. We got on a plane in Pittsburgh in the middle of the afternoon. We flew about an hour to Philadelphia, spent a few hours there waiting for our flight change, and then spent the next several hours (my notes indicate that it was twelve hours worth of travel -- I don't remember if that includes the time spent waiting in the airport to board the second flight) flying over the Atlantic.
One nice thing about international flights is that even the crummy commuter class gets free movies, booze, and those cool heated face towels that you normally only get in First Class on domestic flights. Unfortunately, in order to get these benefits, you have to pretend you are a sardine for a non-trivial portion of your day. One of these days, I'll be able to afford Business or First Class.
The other thing that sucked was that the flight, having left in the afternoon, went all night long. Remember that we went through about six time zones on this flight, too -- from Pittsburgh (five hours to the west of GMT) to Paris (which is one hour to the east of GMT). And I can't sleep on planes, so I've been awake, if drowsy, the entire time.
I will say that the airport we flew into (I think it was De Gaulle) was pretty darn cool; there's a central spherical area between the various gates (the gates are on multiple levels), and there are a variety of transparent escalators that take you through that spherical area. It's very trippy, especially on very little sleep.
Next: a day defined by drugs