Geek Cruise - Linux Lunacy 2 - Day 1 - Boarding

20th - 27th October 2002

I heard about the Geek Cruises in Linux Journal magazine, early in 2002. I had never been on a cruise. The web site GeekCruises.com got me interested. There was so much on offer - a week at sea, a luxury cruise liner, talks by big names in the Open Source Movement, Jamaica, a Mayan ruin. I booked early for the cruise.

We were to travel on the ms Maasdam, leaving from Fort Lauderdale on the 20th. That meant a day's travel. We went with Delta. It was no better and no worse than any other airline. The damned security bullshit was out in force when we left Norfolk. I originally thought about taking my laptop with me, but it has a dead battery and runs only from mains power. At the last minute I decided against taking it. Good decision. I can just imagine some paranoid terrorist-finder asking me to turn on my laptop and me grabbing the power cord and looking for the outlet, only to be trampled underfoot as the laptop is hustled onto the tarmac and blown up by the bomb squad. So, I didn't bother with the old laptop. Even so, I had to take all my bits and pieces off, still set off the metal detector, then get scanned manually, show my belt buckle, and remove my shoes so they could be put through the X-ray machine. This security stuff is bullshit. Even at 6:30am, it still took us about half an hour to get through the security crap.

And then the Delta plane was late leaving Norfolk, and even later arriving at Atlanta, with terminals so far apart that we had top speed-walk to make our connecting flight. We just barely made it, and the plane had nearly finished boarding when we arrived. So what do they, they choose Anne to be the victim of a "special search". They shooed me down the tube and told me to board and that Anne would be along soon. No bloody way. I'm not going to get separated. I waited, and they got irritable with me and told me to board. I moved a bit further down the tube so they couldn't see me but I could still see Anne a bit, and I could hear what was happening. Anne had a hard time. She had to remove her shoes and then they wanded her bare feet. They gave up on Anne's feet, but they went for her top. They wanded her top and the device went off. Anne was wearing an under-wire bra. They made her take her top off, and then they were still wanding her and poking her, so she started to take her last garment off when they said she should stop. Anne started getting upset. I read about another woman they did this too recently, and she really lost her temper and stripped topless. They arrested that woman. Anne was upset by this stage, and made some remarks about wanding her bare feet, and was informed that they had already caught several people with fake skin on their feet and things hidden inside. Sure, and pixies are real and Santa Claus comes once a year. This security stuff is bullshit. Eventually they let Anne go, and we boarded the plane together and we finally left for Fort Lauderdale.

It wouldn't have made any difference what airline we took - they all suck with their connecting flights. Since I first arrived in the USA in 1998, I haven't had one single set of air travel go smoothly. Something screws up every time. The extra security just makes it worse.

And we finally made it to Fort Lauderdale at midday with all our luggage. Another miracle. We took a taxi to the pier. We somehow ended up with largest taxi-driver in the USA. The taxi went up a foot and a half when he got out. I thought he would have a heart attack just getting from the front seat to open the boot. He survived, and we tipped him enough to help with his bypasses. The pier consisted of two things - a huge mound of luggage and a very long line. We contributed to the mound of luggage and were taken attack by the full-frontal attack made by the guy who moved our luggage from the taxi to the pile. He said "This is the only time you get a chance to thank me", then elaborated loudly on this theme no doubt hoping to shame us into giving him guilt money, and he held his hand out. We gave him money and never saw him again. Our luggage made it to our intact and before we did, so maybe the tip helped.

We joined the end of the line. Our goal was a large warehouse style building where we would check in. The line extended out that building, past the end of the building, across the grass, through another building, and looked like it was going to pass through yet another building. It was moving, slowly. There were essentially two types of people on the cruise - geeks and geriatrics. 120 geeks and 1100 relatively normal people. We had fun in line, nodding towards the occasional overweight guy with laptop on shoulder and pithy computer sayings on T-shirt, and saying "geek", or nodding towards the heavily made up tarty women in bikinis covered by loose crochet and saying "non-geek". Spot-the-geek is just too easy. There were other signs too, like the pale skin, and eyes blinking at the unaccustomed sunshine, and a predisposition to being overweight. Okay, so that was me, but the others matched some of those attributes. When we passed through the second building, an enterprising salesman had opened the concession stand in that building and was selling refreshments. We were in Florida and it was hot and the sun was bright. Right in front of us, Linus Torvalds broke through the line, ordered coffee and headed back. That was my brush with fame.

Eventually the line led us into the building for yet another half-hearted attempt at X-raying and metal-detecting, and then we could join another line. But there were a about 20 lines, so I picked what looked like being the quickest, but decided the one next to it was best, so we joined that one. It immediately became the slowest line in the building. We waited. And waited. What was the hold-up? A group of people in loud Hawaiian shirts were behind us and started joking and moaning, trying to make light of the slowness. There was a flurry of excitement when someone recognised someone from the Letterman show who came over and had photos taken with the Hawaiian shirts, which made their day. My question was "What is a Letterman, and who is that guy?" but I suppose they were just as excited to see some entertainer as I was excited to see Linus.

We got to the end of the line and checked in. We had a trainee. That was what slowed us down. She was having a bad day because she got foreigners and had to learn how to handle all the weird stuff. We explained our I94s and told her what to do, and helped her out and didn't stress her out, and she slipped me early boarding passes as a reward so we didn't have to wait. We whipped out of the line and went immediately on board. As we hit the gangplank, we met the photographer. We paused and were photographed. We look tired and irritated after the plane travel and the queuing. After a few days we learnt about the photographer. We learnt to fear the photographer and to run and hide. But despite this, we still bought hundreds of dollars of his photographs.

[Boarding the Maasdam]

When we booked, I booked a cheap inner cabin. I didn't anticipate spending much time in the cabin, so I didn't see the need for a porthole or a view. However, Neil at GeekCruises had very kindly upgraded us to an outer cabin on the Lower Promenade Deck and we had a big window that missed out on a view of the sea thanks to a badly positioned bulkhead. Never mind. The window gave us plenty of light all night long, and made sure we were up at the crack of dawn each day.

[Settling in to our cabin on
the first day]

We lolled in our cabin for a short while, then headed up to Lilo Deck (pretty appropriate for the Linux Lunacy Cruise) and we had a late lunch at 3 in the afternoon. This was my first introduction to ship food. First impressions - the quantity. The quality was pretty good too, but it was dwarfed by the enormous quantity of food. I was told later that 7,000 tons of food was loaded for our cruise. I can well believe it. I had gone vegetarian some months ago, which many people said was poorly timed and I should have waited till after the cruise, but I went vegetarian for a reason, and I stuck to it. There was more than enough food for me. We hadn't had breakfast, and we hadn't had lunch, so we had a big meal.

Before we could get underway, we had to go through the obligatory lifeboat test. The announcement came, we donned our orange vests, mine making me so large that I had to force my way though doorways and we went out to the deck. We were herded against the walls and we waited. And waited. The gentle Indonesian crew members politely implored us to do things, and started to do roll-call, but weren't getting anywhere. While we were herded against the wall, and milling like frightened sheep, the photographers came through. Finally, one Dutch officer, tall and dominant, came out and bellowed at us and we shut up and did the roll-call. It was the Maasdam, run by Holland America Lines, and the crew was Dutch and Indonesian. With an English captain. When this giant Dutch officer got started on us, I was reminded that Dutch explorers spotted Australia long before Cook did, and I was also reminded of many tales of the Dutch explorers and how they were "hard men". [Struggling inside a life
  jacket]

After lifeboat drill, we went out on deck to wait for the ship to leave. The captain announced that we were delayed. He had a cheery Pommy voice, and it was a pleasure to listen to him. Some passengers were late arriving at the airport so the ship waited for them. We stayed on deck and looked around. One side was the cruise ship piers and the other was a part of the Florida waterways.

[The view from the ship]

We watched to see if the passengers would arrive, but didn't see anyone arrive or board. The captain announced we would wait a bit longer, and let two other cruise ships leave, and then we would go last. This ship was docked next to us and it left. If you've done cruises before, then you're going to be bored by this. This was my first and I was pretty excited and it was all new and different.

[The first ship to leave]

And then this monster of a ship left. It was huge. Anne was impressed, especially by the balconies out the back. We saw it several times on our cruise.

[The second ship to leave]

Finally it was our turn, and we quietly headed out to open sea. Once we had left sight of land, it was boring, so we turned back inside for the first of the social events. We had been allocated second dinner sitting each night at 8:15pm. Tonight was casual. I soon learnt the difference between casual, informal and formal. Casual dinner came after a busy day on shore, when we didn't have time to get dolled up. It meant long trousers and a shirt with a collar for me, and women could do anything except bikinis. Informal meant I had to add a jacket. This was a shame as I hadn't brought one. Formal meant a tuxedo or a suit. I had mine. But before we had dinner, we had a Geek Bon Voyage Cocktail Party to get to. I couldn't remember dress standards for it, but I thought it was formal, so I put on the suit and off we went. Bugger. It was casual. Luckily I wasn't the only one who was confused by the dress standards. So we had jeans and T-shirts, through to tuxedos and suits.

It was pleasant. The speakers congregated together, and knew each other quite well, as they probably see each other very regularly at most Linux events. Newcomers were quite happy to sit on their own and watch the bustle and have a few drinks. It appeared that most of the people had been on a Geek Cruise before and knew each other, so there was lots of hail-fellow-well-met and back slapping and catching up on life. Trays of nibblies came round, and I had to refuse the lot. At this point I realised that being a vegetarian meant that I was going to lose weight or stay the same this trip, while those around me were going to gain weight. It was a good prediction. There were a few guys sitting on their own, quietly watching the events. I sat down and chatted to a few of them, but it was like pulling teeth trying to get a conversation going, so I gave up. At one point, Randal Schwarz came through taking photographs. He aimed the camera at me, I smiled, and he grimaced and said "Don't pose. I hate posing." and he charged off. Oh. Okay. I learnt later that he has been on every one of the 13 Geek Cruises so far, and he takes heaps of photos. The good thing was that he didn't appear to aim the camera my way for the rest of the trip, so that worked out okay.

Couple of speeches, quick description of what we could expect, few drinks, few introductions, and then a few more drinks and we headed off. Back to the cabin, get the damned suit off and get into casual clothes. Found our way to the huge split level dining room, the Rotterdam Dining Room, and found our assigned table. It appeared that the geeks all had the second dining session at 8:15pm, which was great. I hate eating at 6pm.

We met our table companions. There was Bob and Michelle from Washington, and Duro and Mirica from Slovenia. It soon became obvious that Bob and I share many traits, and our wives took delight in the litany of shared characteristics. This photo is from another night, but it serves to show our dining companions.

[Our dining group]

After dinner, we found the Internet room. They had about 10 PCs set up with Windows XP, with connection via satellite. There were three plans you could choose for access. Pay as you go at 75c a minute, or 100 minutes for $55, or 250 minutes for $100. While I was trying to work out what to do, the sysadmin told me about a special deal for the Geek Cruise members. 30c a minute in 100 minute blocks. I signed up for that. When I sat down and tried to log in, I found out that I had done the wrong thing. The special deal was if you had your own laptop, with your own wireless connection, and you tapped into the wireless network on the ship. I didn't have that, so I cancelled it and booked 250 minutes using the desktops. Next one of these I go on, I'll make sure I have a good laptop with wireless. Later on in the cruise, I noticed all the wireless hotspots. There would be a cluster of geeks with laptops, huddled together and doing stuff online. I heard that most people were very happy with the wireless connection.

The desktops were not very successful for me. They used Windows XP, but the browsing and email was done with what appeared to be a customised version of Internet Explorer. It looked cool, but it really irritated me a lot because it was so inefficient and took so much time to browse from one page to another. The connection to the Internet over the satellite was pretty fast, so that wasn't the problem. If you viewed one page and wanted to view another page, you didn't have a URL entry box at top of the screen. It took 5 mouse clicks, with slow XP response between each click before you got to a URL box and could type another URL. I took the 250 minute deal and it lasted till till the very last night.

And then after those arrangements, we went back to the cabin and did a bit of reading of the cabin literature to try and make sense of ship life. The bed wasn't exactly large, but it wasn't small, and it was surprisingly comfortable. We slept deeply, exhausted by the travel.

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