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November 1, 2006

D.C. and Back

Just got back from Washington D.C. where I gave a quick presentation at WPES. Peter came to visit me last week on his way home from an OpenBSD hackathon in Hungary and we both flew out of O'Hare to our respective destinations on Sunday. I checked into the Alexandria Hilton where WPES and the main ACM CCS conference were being held and tried to rest during the day to make up for accumulating sleep deprivation. After a nap, I went in search of a coffee shop to add some animations to my slides. For slightly over $250 a night, guests of the Hilton can enjoy the ambiance of crystal chandelliers and lush carpetting, a five star restaurant featuring the finest in surf and turf, access to a barber shop, fitness club, and large gift shop, but NO FREE INTERNET. I won't even complain that there is no free continental breakfast or coffee or basket of fruit like the Resident Inns have (for half the room price), but free Internet is not too much to ask. Even more aggravating is they have a business office advertising "24 hour Internet and printing access", but upon closer inspection, I learned it was provided at a per minute charge. Just another instance of the inverse relationship between hotel cost and useful amenities. Anyways, all I could find within walking distance was a Starbucks that was closing at 8pm (15 minutes after I arrived) because they needed to hold some management meeting for all employees. So that was a bit of bad luck, but I went back to the hotel and just did as much work as I could without Internet.

The next day I went to the other WPES sections and then added some more pictures to my slides after getting wifi access from the conference access code. My talk was in the afternoon and was, to be blunt, a technical disaster. After a series of laptop problems, navigation confusions, and powerpoint hiccups, I managed to get through the material of the talk. I got a few quality chuckles from the audience as I pained through the presentation problems and Adam heard one attendee near him laugh and mumble that he felt really bad for me. I assured the audience that the talk was less painful to listen to than give, answered some questions, and then was just glad it was over. Adam, Apu, and I went to the city in the late evening to walk around after having some drinks at the reception. After getting lost on the metro twice, solicited for money from quite a few bums, and seeing a cop throw a guy on his car and stick a gun to his head less than 15 feet from where we were walking, we decided to get ice cream and head back to the hotel. I saw tons of advertisements on the metro and streets about the HIV epidemic. Apparently the rate of HIV/AIDS in D.C. is ten times the U.S. rate, and according to one poster, 1 in 20 people in D.C. are HIV positive. This and the fact that the city is also known for high crime make its destinction as the U.S. capital a bit conflicting. I got a couple of hours of sleep and then had to head out at 4:00am this morning to catch an early flight back to Chicago. I managed to see the Washington monument and White House from the taxi on the way to the airport, so I felt a bit better about getting an actual taste of the area on the otherwise really short trip.

Oh, and it seems you can again bring toiletries on planes, so long as all items are in travel size containers (of which I have none) and placed in a quart sized plastic bag. When I got to the gate, I noticed that I had forgotten to take out a full-sized bottle of toothpaste from my bookbag carry on. Apparently the officer that searched my bookbag and wiped it down for bombs didn't notice it either. It's a good thing for the airlines that I wasn't in a terrorist mood or I could have easily slipped by security with a toothpaste bomb!
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