It’s just data

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka was overwhelming, and I’m amazed that Sanjiva Weerawarana was able to pull this conference off.  The logistics were mind boggling, and the success was clearly due to the combined efforts of many volunteers pulling together.  There were too many to name, and I’m lousy at names anyway, but one individual that stood out for me was Kapila Withanage who accompanied me on my exhausting but every bit worthwhile whirlwind tour of the countryside.  Some were dynamos like Anuradha Ratnaweera who is working on creating his own Linux distro, and another highly animated Suchetha Wijenayake who was assigned to Greg Stein.  But most were like the bearded Deepthi Peiris who quickly, quietly and competently took care of most of the arrangements, including addressing a temporary hotel billing confusion.

Sri Lanka is a country where few people have computers at home, and even fewer have Internet access.  Many of those that have both are in Colombo, and if the attendees of the conference are any indication, they tend to be young, educated, and enthusiastic.  I saw many spirited discussions of the relative merits of various Linux distros, and in my tutorial we often veered off into detailed comparisons between a number of programming languages (there were a number of Pythonistas in the audience).  While English was not the first language for many of the people I met, it was the language of commerce and is ubiquitous — signs in English predominated by an overwhelming majority over all other languages.

I got a chance to meet Arthur C. Clarke.  Despite being affected by post-polio syndrome and thereby being confined to a wheelchair, he happily paddles about his office with his two stocking feet.  At 87, he is still quick with a joke, and always seems to be laughing - the only sadness I saw was with the mention of the loss of his wife and a favorite dog.  At one point, Danese asked Arthur if he believed in God, to which he instantly replied with a wide grin “No, but I hope she believes in me”.

Traffic in Colombo has to be seen to be believed.  The nearest equivalent I have ever seen is roundabouts in England - you rarely stop, and if you do it isn’t for long.  Mostly what you experience is cars fluidly merging and changing lanes.  However, instead of being localized to discrete intersections, this was the style of driving everywhere in Sri Lanka.  And instead of being limited mostly to cars, it included three wheeled micro-golf cart like vehicles, a contraption that looks like a lawn mower pulling a cart, oxen pulling carts, people pulling carts, bicycles, stray cows, and a lot of people who confidently step off of buses into oncoming traffic and blithely cross at any point.  Horns are used completely differently: in the US, blowing one’s horn is an indication that somebody nearby did something that displeased you, and a short toot is used to prod somebody to move; in Sri Lanka, there are more of the short toot variety and they generally mean that the driver is either doing something or is about to do something that the surrounding people might want to be aware of.

By Sri Lankan standards, Colombo is a fairly young city, with few buildings more than two to three hundred years old.  The place where I gave my tutorial showed many signs of  British colonial architecture.  In the US such places are rare, and restored.  Here they aren’t considered particularly old or rare, instead they are commonplace, and lived in.

The countryside is a thing of beauty with a rich history.  Kings who lived over two millennia ago who had their share of swimming pools replete with bare breasted concubines, armies, and moats.  Shrines where Rasmus and I had to take off our shoes and don skirts to enter.  Elephants meandering in herds following the seasonal shapes of the various water holes.  Monkeys as plentiful as pigeons, delousing one another, and comfortable with humans nearby as long as we weren’t too close.

Traveling such distances sucks, and I now have a particular disdain for Charles de Gaulle airport.  That being said, if ever I am fortunate enough to have a similar opportunity again, I will likely do one or more of: 1) bring some or all of my family, 2) stay longer, and/or 3) do less.