Posts about travel

The Brzeen Hotel in Riyadh

living room

Unexpectedly, I find myself in Riyadh tonight. This is my first trip here, though so far the sum total of my experience has been airport, taxi, and hotel.

I hope that I manage to see something uniquely Riyadh during the trip, though I will not be surprised if my journey is a sequence of point-to-point trips, with no time in the actual city. A shame.

The story, so far as I know it, is that we (my team lead, Andrew Winfer, and I) have been called out as representatives of KAUST to assist KACST in the configuration of their Blue Gene/P. They have a single rack (4096 PowerPC compute cores, likely with four terabytes of memory disributed among them). As I understand it, KACST is structured much like a national laboratory, and this system is being managed by the group of research scientists using it. Apparently they haven't been terribly pleased with the system thus far; but a Blue Gene is a bit different from a traditional cluster, and those differences can be confusing at first.

I hope we will be able to assist them. More exciting, though, is the possibility that this is the first in a series of future collaborations between our two institutions.

Of course, I haven't been to KACST yet: we only just arrived in Riyadh at 22:00. I'm procrastinating sleep with the trickle of Internet available in my room.

KAUST has put us up in the Brzeen Hotel. (I'm giving up on trying to isolate a correct Arabic spelling.) The room is perfectly servicable, if a bit barren; but overshadowing everything else is the size of it all.

Anyway: I expect there will be more interesting things to say tomorrow.


exit visa | USA trip, 2011

On 1 September we’ll be making our next trip back to the states to see friends and family. We’ve been looking forward to it for quite a while. Breaking with tradition, I’ve had everything planned out pretty well ahead of time: airline tickets, en–route meetups, busses…

That is the mindset I was in this weekend, as I took a leisurely walk through the campus with a couple friends. No worries. Carefree.

Until I realized that I had forgotten to file for the renewal of Andi and my exit (and re–entry) visas.

“No problem,” I thought: “We have two weeks, and it’s never taken more than one to get them.”

Then I remembered that the second of these two weeks was Eid: non–essential government services would be shut down during the break, including visa paperwork.

I couldn’t sleep on Friday night: what if we didn’t manage to get our visas on time?

On Saturday morning (the beginning of my workweek) I was in the office by six–thirty, filling out the visa request forms. They require my manager’s signature; and though he wasn’t in the office this week, he had signed copies turned around to me via email in under an hour. The government affairs department assured me that I’d have our visas before Eid–likely Monday–which did some to allay my fears; but I wouldn’t be able to stop worrying about the potential impact of my carelessness until I had those strange pieces of paper stapled in the back of our passports.

Today, I feel so much better.


We had a few days in Athens after we sailed the Aegean Sea with the crew of the Tahita. We didn’t have a lot of plans (aside from the obvious archaeological sites) so I asked Sotiris for some recommendations.

One thing that stuck out to me was Κωστας, which he described as, “the best Σουβλάκι in Athens.” In keeping with the rest of Mystic Blue, this place was the antithesis of tourism: a couple standing behind a counter, making up to two γύρος at a time.

It was, without a doubt the best Σουβλάκι we had. In fact, we went back again before we left.

destination Chicago security

In order to board my plane to Chicago I had to submit to

  • a rather thorough interrogation

  • carry-on luggage x-rayed

  • full-body metal detector

  • wand metal detector (even though the first metal detector did not go off)

  • another (briefer) interrogation

  • waiver to have my checked luggage searched

  • full, open-bag inspection of checked luggage (not a result of the x-ray)

  • full-body pat down

It’s absurd. I haven’t had to go through anything resembling this amount of security to enter any other country ever. This is worse than it’s ever been to enter the U.S., too. It would be laughable if it weren’t so frightening; and if it didn’t make me angry at America. And I’m a citizen.

Turkish airline security

Today I was interrogated by Turkish airline security, and for only one reason: I dared to try to travel to the U.S. “Special Security Procedures” for U.S. flights, they said. Never mind that I’m a natural born citizen.

This puts me in an antagonistic mood. I’m not going to make a big deal at security in a foreign country, but if the TSA gives me any trouble I’m going to return in kind.

After all, my bus doesn’t leave until 7pm.

After the wharf

Via divine providence, as the sun set, on the horizon was a Barnes & Noble… with an attached World Market… and free wifi.

the 1up offices

I made it to 1up. Met Jeremy Parish, Tina Sanchez, “Scooter,” Justin Haywald, and (I think) one of the tech guys who’s name I cannot remember.

It was pretty cool. It’s difficult, in that kind of situation, to not pretend like you know these people at all. I knew who most of them were already, whether from podcasts, articles, or otherwise, but the last thing I wanted to do was weird people out by responding with, “Yes, I already know your name.”

Oh, by the way: I was wearing a suitjacket when I visited the offices. Before the attendant let me up the elevator he asked me if I was going to pull any “matrix stuff” out of my jacket.

If only he had considered that my name is Mr. Anderson.