Strata EU: Logistics

I was at Strata EU last week -the first time ORA had hosted it in the EU.

Rather than go into the details, I'm going to look more at logistics. As a speaker, I got to stay in the hotel, the London Hilton Metropole, positioned where the Westway flyover rises off Edgware Road; 3.2 miles from where I grew up West Hampstead. The hoteal was very close to Paddington Station, ideally positioned for people coming from LHR or Bristol. Unfortunately, I was approaching from Portsmouth, so ended up at London Waterloo, South of the River.

A sunday evening was the ideal time to try out my Boris Bike key and cycle over there in the half hour of free-ride time you get. I first took the footbridge over the river to Charing Cross and then over Trafalgar Square before starting this -negotiating one of the bridges of death didn't appeal to me.

Getting the bicycle proved harder than I thought as the key wouldn't let me pick any up, plugging in by the touch screen brought up a page saying "call Transport for London". Which I did, above the traffic noise, and got someone who said I had yet to authenticate the key and had to do that there and then, including answering one of the security questions. Without getting the laptop out I couldn't do that, but managed to get by without it -and at the end being told the answer to the question, which involved Boris and some very negative phrases. They must get that a lot.

When I got the key in the post, TfL had included a nice map of central London showing all the bike rental sites. What that map didn't do was show sensible cycling routes. I could certainly get to the hotel via Regent St, Oxford St, Marble Arch and then Edgware Road -trivial routing- but not one that leaves you happy.

Instead I used the cycling layer of an Open Street Map viewer on my phone and meandered up the expensive parts of Westminster, over Hyde Park and then up, where I got fed up of repeatedly location checking and just went up Edgware Road instead, soon to dock the bike. Some blue lines on the TfL map would have been convenient.

This was my first trip on the TfL rental bikes, and they were a surprising.
  1. They are barges with awful friction and rolling resistance. I know they are powering some blinky LED lights, but even so they are slow. The gearing doesn't help either; it goes low but its top option would be low-mid-ring on my commuter.
  2. Those blinky lights are pretty awful, especially the front one. The only way you'd be seen against the illumination of chicken fast food restaurants on the Edgware Road would be as silhouette eclipses the chicken broilers in the front windows. You are in darkness on Hyde Park too -these are not for nightime MTB races.
  3. The brakes are dire too, with minimal reaction. I'd view that condition on my commuter as an emergency, not a normal state of affairs. I've realised why they are so bad -if they were set up the way mine are -light touch onto disk brakes- too many riders would be straight over the front bars as they (literally) hit that first junction. You just need to keep your speed down, especially given the inertia of the land-barge.
  4. Not a good turning circle.
Overall: not great, but they got me to where I wanted to be without going near the tube; given some time I'll learn my way around better.
The hotel was OK, except I couldn't get the wifi to work in my room, even when entering my (surname, room) info. A call to reception informed me that I actually needed to pay extra for wifi. That was like falling back in time. I almost expected them to tell me that there was a phone socket for my modem. I declined the option of room wifi and just flipped my mobile into Wifi hotspot mode to take advantage of my "unlimited" data option that I'd bought from 3 this month. Functional, albeit slow.

The room was on floor 10 -in the morning I could see the tower block near my house & from there orient myself to the trees behind, hence to the trees above. That's the closest I've been to it for 15 years. Maybe I should visit it sometime.

The next day, breakfast and conference. I found a good cafe nearby with Illy coffee and chocolate croissants -something to remember the next time I am in Paddington station waiting for a train.
The conference was fun -loitering near the booth meant I spent more time meeting other attendees than in talks -but the few I made were good. In particular: James Cheshire's visualisation talk showed some beautiful visualisations of data projected or animated onto maps of London; a talk on Cause and Effect really laid down how to do effective tests -a key point being a negative result is a result, so don't ignore it.

I also enjoyed Isabel Drost's talk on big data mistakes, where she got everyone to own up to getting things wrong -like creating too many small files, accidentally deleting the root tree of the FS, running jobs that bring down the cluster, etc. A lot of the examples credited someone called "Steve" -I have to own up to being this person. I consider breaking things to be an art. Indeed, I couldn't even watch her slides without having to file a bugzilla entry: https://issues.apache.org/ooo/show_bug.cgi?id=120767
cat and mouse
If there was one problem with the conference site -it was that rooms were too scattered. After day 1 you'd learned your way around, but it still took five minutes to get to each talk -cutting each talk down by five minutes. It also stopped you running out of a talk you didn't like and going to another one. Not that I'd do that -or expect anyone in the audience of my talk to do such a thing.

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