This is one of my regular disclosure posts. You can read more of them here.
I was invited by Terrapinn events to speak on a panel at their annual Tech in Government conference in Canberra, Australia, on 6-7 August 2019.
Monday 5 Aug 2019
Terrapinn paid for my flights and accommodation, so I flew to Canberra on Monday evening after getting back from PyConAU the night before.
I’ve not really done the same-day turnaround thing before, as I usually get at least a weekend between events, and having done it now I’m going to avoid it in future. While it’s nice to be able to (briefly) see my family and grab some fresh underwear (thus travelling light and only having carry-on luggage), it’s also strangely disconnecting. It’s hard to be present when you’re not going to be there for long and have work things to do for most of the day anyway.
Still, lesson learned.
I drove myself to the airport, since parking for two nights was cheaper than getting a car there and back, even at Melbourne Airport’s exorbitant prices. I had dinner at the airport in the Qantas lounge, noodles with a spicy sauce and wombok. I remember it had wombok because an older somewhat tubby white businessman exclaimed “What’s wombok?” to no one in particular while reading the little menu thing they had at the window of the noodle-prep area. I decided to tell him, because at least he seemed genuinely curious rather than dismissively outraged. Wombok is the name Australians use for Chinese cabbage, or brassica napa subspecies pekinensis. It’s tasty and versatile, wonderful in stir-fry, and if you haven’t tried it yet I encourage you to do so.
The flight to Canberra is short, about 40 minutes, and I got to experience the new (to me) Canberra airport as I’d not been there for at least a decade after doing a fly-in-fly-out project back in the mid 2000s. I caught a taxi (paid for by PivotNine) to the Crowne Plaza hotel near the convention centre, which was being paid for by Terrapinn. The hotel had changed a little bit from what I remembered, but not a lot.
There was no shower puzzle.
Tuesday 6 Aug 2019
I had early morning calls with clients before heading to the convention. It was pretty brisk on the brief walk from the hotel, about 3°C outside. I’d brought an extra layer with me, thankfully, as I remembered how cold Canberra can get even when it looks like a nice day outside.
I grabbed a free coffee, sponsored by one of the vendors at the show. I forget which one, so a bit of a marketing miss there. I drank a lot of coffee at the conference, partly because every second booth seemed to have a proper espresso coffee machine staffed by a barista from the convention centre’s catering staff. For a fairly small conference (I’d guess about 800 attendees, maybe 40-50 booths?) there were a lot of coffee stations. There needed to be, because this crowd drank a lot of coffee.
The rest of the day was conference sessions and conference food for lunch or snacks. Bain marie stuff, but pretty tasty. Not as good as the food at PyConAU, but good by conference standards.
There was an evening reception that I got to late and everyone there was furnished with a drink already. It turned out there were circulating waiters for both food and drinks, and the emphasis was on the latter. I had a glass of wine and I managed to snag something on a stick. People I’d introduced myself to were explaining to some visiting American Navy folk that their term for holding two drinks at once (double fisting) was not as innocent a phrase here in Australia, to general amusement.
It was pretty clear what direction their night was headed in, so I made other plans.
I asked people on Twitter for suggestions of where to eat. I ended up deciding on Indian food for reasons that escape me now. When I got to my chosen restaurant I realised that I’d eaten there a few times when working in Canberra last time: Taj Mahal Indian Restaurant on Northbourne Avenue. PivotNine paid for a lamb madras, naan, rice, and a glass of wine. The food was fine, and exactly the same as I remembered.
There’s something to be said for consistency over multiple decades. The place has a cosy, homely feel to it. Almost like you’re eating in your own lounge room. The decor is stereotypical Indian as imagined by foreigners, and it was never a busy place, but eating out in the middle of the week can be like that. It wasn’t empty, though, and tonight a family group was finishing as I arrived around 7, and there were two more groups there by the time I left around 8:30pm, and there were a few people coming in to pick up takeaway. The waiter (there was only one) patiently explained to someone on the phone that they didn’t do delivery, only pickup.
The other feature of a cosy, smallish restaurant is that overhearing conversations from everyone else in the place is quite easy. I didn’t really need to learn about the inner workings of PEXA or the political maneuvering inside various departments, but I didn’t have a lot of choice in the matter. It’s quite remarkable how little of this information makes its way into the press, really.
Then it was back to the hotel for bedtime.
Wednesday 7 Aug 2019
Early morning calls again, and I made use of the in-room kettle and teabags. Australian hotels tend to always have tea-making facilities, but no filter coffee machine thing like some American hotel chains. There’ll be instant coffee, but it’ll invariably be Nescafé Blend 43. I’ll take American filter coffee over that. Or, a usually superior choice, tea.
I made the same chilly walk to the conference as Tuesday, and enjoyed the same coffee abundance and general catering experience.
I enjoyed Vanessa Teague’s presentation on how broken the NSW iVote system was/is, even though it wasn’t news to me. The general lack of outrage locally and the contrast with how seriously the Swiss seem to take their democratic processes still perplexes me. I suppose everyone is too busy being civil to care.
A highlight of the day was meeting Rachel Dixon, Privacy and Data Protection Deputy Commissioner in the Office of the Victorian Information Commissioner, in person at long last. She was part of the same panel I was there for, and she advocated excellently for better respect for people’s autonomy and privacy. I hope she (and I, I suppose) got through to at least a few of the audience members. The panel was at the end of the day, but we probably had a decent 40-50 attendees.
From there it was back to the hotel to pick up bags, a taxi to the airport, and then loiter in the Qantas lounge until my flight. I had a quick conversation with Paul Shetler at the airport as we’d missed each other during the conference itself, though I did catch his presentation which was once again imploring departments to do the basics before embarking on complicated, bleeding edge projects of dubious value to the general public.
Dinner was penne pasta with a bolognese sauce and some kind of dessert slice thing. It was… average, though greatly enhanced by asking the lounge staff to switch the TV channel to ABC instead of Sky News After Dark. No one else seemed to notice the change.
Then it the short flight to Melbourne and a drive home.
No swag this time.