ostree & Flatpak at CERN

A week and a half ago I spent a few days in Geneva and gave a presentation about ostree and Flatpak at the CERN Computing Seminar. I started by briefly introducing Endless to give some context of the problems we’re trying to solve and how we’re using ostree and Flatpak for that, then proceeded to talk more in detail about these technologies. In the end, there were several questions, and I was happy to learn afterwards that among the audience there were some of the people working at the CVMFS project: a software distribution service to help deploy data-processing infrastructure and tools. I don’t know the full details about the project’s implementation, but from the problems they’re trying to solve it seems like ostree (or more specifically libostree) could perhaps be used to replace part of the core, which would leverage all the niceties of using a complex Open Source project (more eyeballs looking into bugs, more testing, etc.). I also think more use-cases could be found in the organization, so I hope my talk was a small seed to help introduce these projects at CERN in the medium/long term. The presentation has been recorded if you’re interested.

Getting authorization to access CERN this time was also different, as for the first time I got an entrance pass as a member of the CERN Alumni. So I would like to thank Antonella Del Rosso for the Alumni initiative and also for allowing me to kindly borrow her EU-CH power adapter when I forgot mine at my friends’ home. In the end Antonella also interviewed me about my experience at CERN and after I left, and produced this summary if you want to check it out.
I would also like to thank Miguel Ángel Marquina of the CERN Computing Seminar for organizing the presentation and all the details around it.

Photo showing the author and his daughter sitting close to the lake in Geneva.
Sitting by the lake with my daughter

Having spent more than 2 years in the region, it is the friends we have there that we miss the most. So it was great to meet them and old colleagues again.
My family traveled there with me and we stayed with friends from Spain, so it was funny to see our daughter (who used to play with those friends’ kids all the time when we lived there) excusing her shyness for not speaking Spanish. But after a day or two they were all successfully playing together; it’s amazing how children can get along no matter what differences or barriers they find, while adults often resort to stupid feelings and dangerous actions.
The mountains landscape is another thing we miss in Berlin and the Spring’s clear weather allowed us to fully gaze at the Jura or the Mont Blanc which should last us for another few more months. After that, I guess I’ll try to find some graffiti of mountains around Berlin 🙂

Two Weeks in Japan, Part 6 (The End): Tokyo vol. III

This article is part of the “Two Weeks in Japan” series and follows Two Weeks in Japan, Part 6: Tokyo vol. II

For our third day in Tokyo we were visiting Odaiba, an artificial island in Tokyo Bay. We got to the island early using the Yurikamome train, a fully automated train without drivers on board. I was surprised to see that the train does not run on rails but has wheels with tires instead (so maybe there is a better name for it than train)!

In Odaiba we went to the Sega Joypolis, a theme park by the well known games company Sega. The park has many nice attractions like a half-pipe (with a series of snowboard-like devices/wagons where two people can stand at a time), many enhanced video-games (for example a rollercoaster where we had to shoot zombies) or an experience inspired by a horror movie. This horror experience was based on the movie Sadako 3D (with a terrifying girl like the one in the Ring movie), we were taken to a dark room with a few computer screens that suddenly started malfunctioning! Our guide (speaking Japanese) tried to turn them off and had to unplug to do so but they quickly turned on again (oooohhh)! Helena and I were very tired (it was evening already) so we were not really excited by the whole scary experience and this must have been so clear in our expressions that the guide switched to English and told us: Very dangerous! Very very dangerous! Run run!

Another thing that I enjoyed seeing was that the Joypolis had many interactive installations using methods similar to the ones I was working with at the time. Check out this live hair change to make queuing less boring:

Love Helena’s air style!

The Joypolis is an indoors park and before we knew, night had fallen so we just had dinner and went back to the hotel.

No fear, Gundam’s here!

The next day we headed to Yokohama, to visit the rāmen museum and later to a town called Kamakura. I had seen the rāmen museum in some movies and I had three wrong assumptions about it: 1) it’s in Tokyo (it’s not, it is in Yokohama), 2) it’s an open air place (it’s in a basement floor) and 3) it’s a big place (it’s rather small). Still, I liked it because we learned a bit about rāmen, it is possible to try several types of it and learn from which regions it comes from, the atmosphere is good and there was a magic/juggling show going on.

Rāmen museum under a beautiful sky
Rāmen museum under a beautiful sky

We also took the chance to visit the Yokohama’s China town with its complex colors and architecture contrasting with the Japanese ones. We entered a Chinese temple and I started taking pictures as I saw no sign forbidding it. Suddenly a lady starts yelling at me, telling me to stop taking photos and basically pushed me out the temple… This also contrasted with the laid back and respectful attitude of the guards in the Japanese temples that had asked me to stop taking photos before. In my defense, after almost two weeks in Japan, I was quite used to look for signs forbidding photos but I hadn’t seen any when entering this Chinese temple because we entered through a side door and the sign was hanged outside over the main door.

After Yokohama, we went to Kamakura, a small town whose main attraction is the giant Buddha statue (daibutsu) with almost 14 meters of height. The statue is impressive and the place is quite peaceful so I definitely recommend it.

Giant buddha statue
Peaceful place

That night we went back to the nice rāmen place I mentioned in the first volume of the Tokyo’s part, in Ikebukuro (I wish I could remember the name of the place…), and got back to our hotel to get ready for our last day in Tokyo.

For our last day in Tokyo, we wanted to check out the fish market but we realized that it had strict rules to visit it and we had to be there very early, so we decided to take it easy (we were tired for the almost two weeks of moving around) and just went there a bit later in the morning. Naturally, the whole frenzy fish selling was no longer taking place so we just bought a few things in some small stands there like nori sheets (they were way cheaper there than back at home) and some beans which we thought were the nice tea we had tried in a few restaurants. When we got home and tried the tea, the beans were tinier than we remembered and they looked like coffee beans (the drink also tasted a bit like very weak coffee) so we just thought that we had bought some very bad coffee. The funny thing is that one year after the trip to Japan, we moved to the Geneva area (where I am currently working at CERN) and shortly after a German PhD student named Christian started working in my office, he knows a lot about tea and Japan (even speaks the language) and he told me those beans were actually roasted barley tea (or mugi cha). Mystery solved!

After the fish market, we went to the nice district of Asakusa, to visit Sensō-ji, one of the most impressive temples in our trip. In there we did the traditional custom of giving a donation and getting a small note telling your fortune. About mine, I won’t disclose everything but among some nice things it said “Building a new horse and enlarging are both good”. No kidding!

A buddhist temple in Asakusa
Sensō-ji

Close to the temple, we went to a nice sushi restaurant, with a conveyor belt surrounding a chef making the sushi in real time. We had been to sushi restaurants with the conveyor belt in other places in Europe and they all followed a “flat-rate” model (pay one fixed price, eat all the sushi you want), however, in Japan the common thing is that each dish has a color which indicates its price and in the end they sum it all and you pay. Still, the sushi was great and not that expensive.
Once we finished visiting Asakusa, we headed to the Tokyo University through a nice park with an impressive pond called Shinobazu, full of waterlilies, fish, ducks and turtles.

Shinobazu pond.
Shinobazu pond.

The last night in Tokyo we changed again to the last hotel of the trip (Narita U-City), this one was outside of Tokyo close to the Keisei Narita Station, on the way to the airport because we figured that the next day it would be simpler and faster to get the airport from there, and being away from Tokyo it means it was also cheaper.

The next day, we started our trip early and we saw a very long queue waiting for the KLM’s desks to open. So we waited, and waited, and waited and realized that our flight was delayed… We must have waited more than 3 hours in the queue which never got smaller.
Eventually they started opening the desks but it was clear that they were very badly organized. Finally, after all that time waiting, when we got to the counter, the lady tells us that she thought our backpacks were too big for hand luggage. I replied they were actually smaller than they looked and that we traveled all the time with them. She said that we had to try to fit them in the appropriate metal frame for the matter and we could go there, check and come back to tell her the verdict. I told her that the metal thingy was out of her sight and that maybe she wanted to come with us to check, otherwise she would have to just trust me and so far, she hadn’t wanted to do that. She looked at me with an expression of “Oh! So someone could actually lie to me!?” (Japanese people, always so innocent) and followed us. The bags fit and we got our tickets!
I was worried that the plane would be so delayed that we would miss the flight from Amsterdam to Barcelona, not only because of the hassle but also because from although the flight from to Barcelona was part of our ticket, once we arrived in Barcelona, we had a flight home to Coruña which was bought independently. Luckily, once we landed in Amsterdam, some assistants were waiting for everyone who was going to Barcelona as the plane had already boarded but was waiting for the people from Tokyo. We arrived with time in Barcelona but guess what, our flight to Coruña was also delayed (but at least we didn’t miss it).
All summed up, we had been traveling for more than 24 hours and needless to say, we were dead tired. I even remembered waking up the next morning with the feeling of having slept really well like I had not in ages and thinking “it is good to be home”.

Photo of Helena and I

Finally I am finishing this series of articles. Since the trip took place, and I started writing its articles, almost three years passed by (!) but I got a good excuse as a lot of things happened. I have changed to a different country (and job) twice, and I am now a father, so far an incredibly rewarding, exciting and ongoing journey.

Until the next time!

Two Weeks in Japan, Part 3: Kinosaki Onsen

This article is part of the “Two Weeks in Japan” series and follows Two Weeks in Japan, Part 2: Kyoto.
It’s been a while since I wrote the previous article in this series but I’m determined to continue writing these articles and finishing the series.

Getting a place to stay

Three days after we arrived in Kyoto, we left and headed to Kinosaki Onsen, in Yogo Perfecture. Kinosaki is a small town famous for its Onsen (natural hot springs) and we were in the mood for some relaxation time.
As we got there, we headed for the tourist info center because we hadn’t reserved our lodging in advance… Big mistake. There was an old lady at the counter which spoke very limited English but was very nice and we were told that every place in town was full so we only had a couple of expensive options left. Around 115 €, she pointed to a calculator, after converting the currency. Well, comparing to the ~50 € per person per night we had paid in Kyoto that’s not a big increase I thought so I said okay but right away my “spidey sense” told me I was missing something… The lady hadn’t specified whether it was per person or per room. It was per person. Whoa, now that was a big inscrease so we said we couldn’t take that one. After making another call, she told us the only remaining alternative left was a ryokan called Morizuya for ~75 € a person. That would be the most expensive hotel we had ever paid (and the most expensive in the whole trip) but there were no other alternatives so we took it. After all, the entrance to the hot springs was included so we kind of considered it the “glamour” moment of our trip.

Our room in Morizuya ryokan, in Kinosaki
Our room in Kinosaki Onsen

As you can see in the photo, the room in the Morizuya ryokan turned out to be huge. It was actually bigger than our first apartment in the city we lived in at that time (Coruña). We had our private sink but the toilet was shared. Still, as I have mentioned in previous articles, this wasn’t a problem because everything in Japan is neatly clean.

Going to the hot springs

After dropping our backpacks, we went to a food supermarket for lunch (they had plenty of nice food like tempura and even tables for seating outside) and then it was time to go explore the Onsen! For that purpose, at the ryokan, besides the common yukata (a traditional style, light clothing), both Helena and I were given a (very feminine) wooden handbag (which had a towel inside) and a pair of very Japanese wooden flip-flops. Since it had started raining a bit, we also took a traditional style umbrella. We had a map of the hot springs’ places and the one we were going to was about 5 minutes walking from Morizuya’s so we headed out. Walking with those wooden flip-flops isn’t easy and those 5 minutes turned easily into 10. The rain wasn’t helping either and I kept thinking, the yukata, the umbrella and the wooden handbag and flip-flops… My old University friends would love to see me dressed up like this. Luckily we had left our phones and camera at the ryokan so there are no evidences for an eventual mockery.
We also realized that we were the only Westerners in town so let’s say we felt very special 🙂

Fireworks in Kinosaki
Fireworks in Kinosaki

The public baths are divided in two (for men and women) since people bathe naked. I felt a bit awkward, not precisely because of being naked, but because I was the only Western in there and, to keep it simple I’ll just say that bodies differ a lot. Adults behave like adults and acted natural in the face of difference but kids are always less influenced by society’s etiquette and would stare 🙂
Helena and I met after half an hour at the entrance and she told me she also felt like that but it wasn’t so bad so we went for our next public baths. This second one was a longer walk and short after we left, it started raining a lot… We got there with our feet and part of the yukata soaked.

I liked this second Onsen a lot. It had less people and a larger outside pool. In this pool, the water was a bit too hot for me so I sat on a rock, naked, with only my legs in the water, getting the hot vapors from below and the cold rain falling from above. I will never forget how great it felt!

Traditional japanese breakfast
Me, enjoying my Japanese breakfast

After getting back to the hotel and changing into our clothes, we went outside for dinner. We ended up (mistakenly) entering a Korean place which was expensive and not good at all but after we left, the rain was gone and everybody was out in the street watching the fireworks in the night sky and murmuring sounds of awe.

The next morning we had a traditional Japanese breakfast (needs to be ordered the day before) served in our room. I liked it but Helena didn’t find it very funny to have fish for breakfast.

Traditional japanese breakfast
Helena, not enjoying her Japanese breakfast
After we checked out, the owner asked us where we were heading (the train station) and told us he’d drive us there, no extra costs or anything. People are nice in Japan.

Our original idea was to go north from Kinosaki and spend a day at the beach but it kept raining so instead we headed to Nagoya for an overnight stay, which was more or less half-way through the long trip to our next main destination Takayama.

Since we spent quite some time at the public baths, we didn’t take many pictures in Kinosaki but there you go:

to be continued…