AWS Road Trip

14 User Groups, 5500 Miles, One Evangelist

Days 6 and 7 - Lexington to Dallas

I spent the entire weekend on the road. On Saturday I drove from Lexington to Memphis. On Sunday I drove from Memphis to Plano, Texas (near Dallas).

Here is a time lapse of the last 30 minutes of my drive to Plano:

The weather was good throughout, and I made very good time, covering a total of 895 miles in two days of fairly easy driving. Temperatures are starting to climb as I head further south. I think I saw 90° on the in-car thermometer once or twice.

I had one modest adventure yesterday. I was humming right along when the dashboard on the Edge displayed the ominous (and ambiguous) message “Tire Pressure Sensor Fault Detected. Press OK.” I pressed OK and contemplated the message. Was there a problem with the tire pressure or the tire pressure sensor? Seconds later the ambiguity resolved itself when a little tire icon lit up on the dashboard.

Not wanting to take a chance, I took the next exit and went to a gas station. The tires looked fine, the front left perhaps a little low. I bought a cheap ($2) tire gauge, paid fifty cents for some air, and added just a little bit to both front tires. The icon went away but I’ll keep my eyes on the tires just to be safe.

Other than that, absolutely nothing of any significance happened along the way. I continue to rely on Waze for driving directions and information. Here’s my dashboard:

Waze Dashboard

My sons Stephen and Andy and my wife Carmen called me along the way to chat and to help me to pass the time. It is always great to speak with them and to give them some real-time updates from the road.

I stopped to take a quick picture shortly after crossing in to Texas:

Big Texas

I noticed that my fuel economy has slipped from around 24 MPG or so all the way down to 21 or 22. I’m not driving and differently; perhaps this is a consequence of a change in weather or or using non-branded gas. I am going to try and stick to brand names for the next couple of days to see if that makes any difference.

Continuing on with my AWS-powered theme, I used Yelp to loook for a nearby place for some good wings. I ended up at Sauced Wings and More, just a few miles away. It also helped me to find a dry cleaner just up the road.

I’m taking things a bit easy today, doing some laundry and preparing for another intense week.

Here’s my MapBox for the weekend:

Tonight’s talk will be in front of the North Dallas Cloud group. Perhaps I’ll see you there!

Tomorrow I will drive to Austin, and will speak at the Austin Cloud User Group.

  • Total driving for the weekend: 895 miles
  • Measured fuel economy: 21.3 MPG

Day 5 - Roanoke to Lexington

Up at 5:20, only to find that I needed to make some final edits to a blog post for immediate publication. I wrapped up my work and was on the road by about 6:50. Here’s the exit video as I left Roanoke and headed to Lexington:

The trip was remarkably smooth and I pulled in to the hotel parking lot shortly after 1 PM. I had checked the weather and was expecting to encounter some rain but the skies remained clear throughout the 349 mile ride. The outside temperature climbed steadily, starting at 65° and ending at 78°. Perhaps I’ll have an 80° day tomorrow.

Here’s the view from my 11th floor room of the Hyatt:

Hyatt Lexington

I realized that I neglected to state one important fact about the Contour camera in my previous posts. The camera captures video in HD quality. The raw MOV file for a 30 minute video is over 3 GB in size. I am transcoding them locally (ffmpeg to the rescue; what you see in the above doesn’t do justice to the output fresh from the camera. I’ll try to figure out away to post a “before” video.

The music theme was “Rock Opera.” I listened to Tommy and Across the Universe before switching to my high-intensty “Driving Music” playlist, followed by a motley collection of podcasts.

I arrived in Lexington as planned, and then had a lunch meeting at Goodfellas with a developer to learn more about the AWS application that his company is building.

After a brief rest and a change of clothes I headed over to the ITT Technical Institute for the Lexington Tech Forum. I gave my AWS presentation to over 40 people, most of whom were new to AWS. As always, there were plenty of good questions.

Lexington Tech Forum

This meeting was a big success thanks to the efforts of Bryan Wall and Rachel Wilson.

As you may notice, I am using Amazon Associates links to identify some of the books and music that I refer to. I don’t expect to make a lot of money from these links, and that’s fine. The interesting thing is that it will cost me about $1 per month to host the site ($0.50 for the DNS and another $0.50 or so for S3 storage and bandwidth). The first purchases that was through one of my Associates earned $6. That’s a pretty decent return on my hosting costs. I challenge you to study up on S3 Website Hosting and construct your own little Money Machine.

I will be driving to Dallas over the weekend, arriving in plenty of time to speak at the North Dallas Cloud Computing Group on Monday.

Here’s my MapBox for the day:

  • Total driving for the day: 358 miles
  • Measured fuel economy: 23.1 MPG
  • Maximum elevation: 3252 feet

Day 4 - Pittsburgh to Roanoke

Up at 5:30, in the car shortly after 6, and on the road. I used my checklist this time and captured a nice exit video on my Contour camera.

As you can see, I missed the turn on to the highway and had to make an extended U-turn which included two trips across the same bridge. Taking the long way around is safer (and more scenic) than making erratic, last-minute driving maneuvers in heavy traffic.

I was drinking plenty of water and making an equally generous number of rest stops.

First Rest Stop

At the first stop, I happened to catch the local weather report and realized that I might encounter some rain. Sure enough, the light drizzle turned in to a torrent within minutes. It got bad enough that visibility became poor and I pulled off onto a convenient exit to let it pass. It relented before too long, only to come back once again with a vengeance an hour or so later, after I had crossed in to West Virginia:

I cranked up the music to stay alert, and rocked out with 70’s and 80’s legends (see the full list at the bottom of the post). One of the few items on my TODO list that I didn’t complete in time was to make some good “Driving Songs” playlists.

I didn’t have mental bandwidth to do much in the way of deep thinking today. I did stop at one scenic lookout point, but couldn’t get good picture. Here’s one of my car instead:

My Car

Despite the rain I made good progress until Waze told me that I was about 25 minutes away from Roanoke. Traffic came to a standstill and we inched along for over half an hour. Up ahead in the distance, I saw a truck pulling a long steel beam. I was hoping to be able to get close enough to grab a picture. By sheer luck, I was right behind it when traffic finally started to move, and it signalled to exit into the next rest stop. I was in serious need of a break myself, so I followed it, parked nearby, and captured the entire thing in a photo:

Giant Steel Beam

The driver told me that this one was 120 feet long and that he was taking it to West Virginia, where it would be used to build a bridge over a ravine. He also told me that he has hauled 180 foot beams for the same project. I posted the picture to Reddit where it generated a lot of conversation, sitting at the top of the category for more than 12 hours.

I checked in to my hotel, freshened up, and headed over to the meeting of the Roanoke .NET User Group.

Tomorrow morning I will drive to Lexington, Kentucky where I’ll be speaking at the Lexingon Tech Forum.

Here’s my MapBox for the day:

Day 3 - Philadelphia to Pittsburgh

I was up before 5, and in the car by 6. I gave the wrong room number to the front desk clerk at the hotel and he checked out another guest by accident.

I neglected to follow my carefully arranged departure checklist and forgot to turn on my Contour camera before leaving the hotel. It was only when I found myself in a weird traffic circle / oval in Philadelphia and thought “this will look good on the time lapse” that I realized. I’ll do better tomorrow.

Once I got on the highway, the ride to Pittsburgh was easy and uneventful, going down arrow-straight roads that were lightly trafficed at best. There were plenty of highway patrol officers hiding along the road, so I stayed close to the 65 MPH speed limit and didn’t risk a ticket. The route included trips through three tunnels, so I captured a timelapse there instead:

Throughout the ride I thought about yesterday’s tragedy in Oregon, and revisited my own safety rules. I have plenty of time to make it to each of my cities, so I don’t speed, I don’t take risks, and I do my best to stay alert. I pull over every 90 minutes, or much sooner if I feel fatigued. In his recent book, The World Until Yesterday, Jared Diamond talks about the way that even low-probability events can occur with a high enough frequency to be risky if you repeat the behavior with sufficient frequency. I keep this in mind throughout the day.

I am also doing my best to stay healthy. I don’t drink any soda or other sugary stuff, and managed to consume nearly 60 ounces of water on today’s drive. Of course, this also forces me to pull over every so often, as mentioned in the prvious paragraph. Here’s a water tower near the first rest stop:

Water Tower

At the first rest stop, I ran into a long-lost staple of my childhood:

Kandy Kake

It tasted just as good as it did 40 years ago!

I arrived, checked in, and immediately heeded a recommendation from Jeff Brown of River Point Technology to get lunch at the famous Primanti Brothers restaurant! He told me to have a “Deluxe Double Egg and Cheese”, which I did. It was delicious:

Primanti Brothers

Deluxe Double Egg and Cheese

I packed up a bag full of AWS Swag, and took the hotel shuttle to the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center for my event.

The event was organized by aforementioned Jeff Brown of the Pittsburgh AWS and sponsored by River Point Technology. The local Hadoop and SteelCloud groups were also invited, and we had a very nice turnout:

AWS Meetup Pittsburgh

Thanks are due to Jeff for organizing, and to his employer for sponsoring!

The Q&A time was awesome, as always. My local colleagues Chris Gorski and Karianne Naughton provided some much-appreciated support.

I should note that I had two unusual hardware failures today! First, my Droid Bionic spontaneously rebooted while I was driving. It is two years old and has never, ever done this before. I was running Waze and a GPS app (to monitor elevation) at the same time, but that shouldn’t crash the phone. Second, the interior zipper on my trusty Timbuktu messenger bag broke apart from metal fatigue after years of faithful service. This bag is at least 6 years old and deserves a good burial!

Here’s my MapBox for the day:

Next stop is Roanoke and the Roanoke Valley .NET User Group.

Day 2 - Philadelphia

The alarm clock on my Droid Bionic woke me up to the theme from Close Encounters at 4:30 AM. After taking care of some important emails, I dressed, packed up, checked out, and headed for my car.

I spent some time rearranging my AWS SWAG boxes to make room for my own stuff, and decided to take a picture, only to find that my camera’s battery was dead. Apparently, leaving it plugged in to my laptop overnight drained the battery instead of charging it.

I spent some more time making sure that my phone and Contour camera were placed to my liking, and then wasted some time trying to pair my phone with the car. It was 6:00 AM and time to go, so I switched on the Contour, said a prayer, and was on my way to Philadelphia.

I made just one wrong turn, accidentally exiting a highway after paying a toll. The streets in Boston are simply crazy. The roads head every which way, many highways have “aliases” to other highways, and caution is advised.

My trip was uneventful and I made great time, pulling into my Philadelphia hotel at 12:07 PM despite 3 quick stops to stretch my legs. The journey through New York and over the George Washington bridge was intense and I was happy to have detailed guidance from the copy of Waze running on my phone.

I have to say that Waze was indispensable for the first driving leg of my trip, and that I expect it to be similarly useful for the rest of them. Driving around Boston without the benefit of dynamic routing is probably impossible for an outsider. Once I left the city, I was able to benefit from the advance warning that Waze provides about traffic, vehicles stuck by the side of the road, and so forth.

The Philly Stop was awesome, with plenty of Q&A and lots of other audience participation from people who had used Spot Instances, RDS, EBS, and other AWS services. I was ably assisted by my colleagues Jonathan Desrocher and Ed Porter.

Before the event got underway, Brad Denenberg told me about Seed Philly, a new incubator that he founded and runs, which currently houses 20 startups. Brad convinced my colleagues to establish some regular AWS Office Hours at his space, which sounds like a really good idea.

One of the attendees told me that he learned AWS from my book, which was both gratifying and humbling. Another attendee practically begged me to do an update. I’ve been thinking about this as a fall project, so we’ll see.

Some of the best questions focused on RDS Support for Postgres, RDS support for SQL Server in Multi-AZ mode, and Regions in countries like Canada and Germany. There was a lot of interest in my use of S3 Website Hosting and one person asked me to write an article on it (great idea, and something I should do).

Here’s my MapBox for the day:

Next stop is Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh AWS Meetup.

Day 1 - Boston

Oh man, what a busy day! I woke up bright and early (5:00 AM Eastern) and got right to work. I spent a few hours writing, took a short walk, and then took $15 taxi ride to the Summer street office of StackDriver.

StackDriver Neighborhoood

I met with co-founders Dan and Izzy, along with senior members of their tech team, to learn more about their Cloud Monitoring Service, which is currently in beta mode. StackDriver monitors your cloud resources and generates notifications anomalies are detected. When it is used to monitor AWS resources, it uses CloudWatch metrics as well as metrics collected by an agent running on the instance. In addition to OS metrics, it can also collect metrics from application components such as Redis, Apache, Memcached, and Nginx.

I wrote down nearly two pages of AWS suggestions during my meeting with the team. I’ll pass these along to my colleagues in Seattle ASAP.

I left their office and proceeded on foot to my next meeting, walking through Boston Commons to get there. I hadn’t had time for breakfast or lunch, so I ate an awesome grilled cheese from a newly opened food cart:

Food Cart

The proprietor and I wished each other well on our respective journeys and I continued along through the Commons and made my way to the Columbus Street offices of Zync.

I met with founders Brian and Sean to learn more about what they do and how they use AWS. ZYNC simplifies the process of rendering Hollywood-scale movies on the cloud. They manage AWS storage and process resources and also track license usage for leading rendering applications like Maya and Nuke.

The air was clear and warm so I decided to walk back to my hotel to get ready for the main event. I took a nice 1.7 mile walk, crossing the Charles River on the Longfellow Bridge:

Longfellow Bridge

I returned to the hotel to review my presentation. On the first slide I promised a variety of AWS SWAG and realized that I still needed to retrieve it from the hotel concierge (it had been shipped to my attention). After a prolonged search, they finally located the most important box – special cards that enable the bearer to use up to $100 in AWS resources.

My colleagues Chris and Ricardo met me in the hotel lobby and we divided up the SWAG (shirts, pens, stickers, and buttons). We walked 0..7 miles to the venue, and met Meetup Host Mark Annati. The room was very well equipped and the view from the 12th floor wsa incredible:

Great View

Dinner was sponsored by Clearpath Solutions Group, although I was too busy to enjoy much of it. I spoke and answered questions for over 2 hours. I got bogged down in details a couple of times and will tighten things up a bit after I get to Philadephia tomorrow.

The audience was awesome and I was happy to start this phase of my ttrip on such a high note:

Boston AWS Meetup

There was one small mishap - someone stepped on the power cord for my laptop and bent the prongs. I had enough battery power to continue so this wasn’t a big deal. Back at the hotel, I straightened them out with a pair of needle-nose pliers (I always carry tools when I travel, don’t you?). I also brought a spare power supply and cord along, just in case.

I’ll check out tomorrow morning and be en route to Philadephia by daybreak. Philly Stop, here I come!

  • Total driving for the day: 0.
  • Taxi rides: 1.
  • Miles walked: 3.9.

Day 0 - Sammamish to Boston

Our story begins in the Seattle suburb of Sammamish on a quiet Sunday morning. After months of preparation and hundreds of emails it was finally time to start the AWS Road Trip! I work up bright and early, wished my wife a Happy Mother’s Day and waited at the curb for my ride.

Nori from Atlas Towncar picked me up at 8:30 AM as planned and whisked me to Seattle-Tacoma airport.

Pick Up

Note to my Amazon colleagues: Despite appearances, the town car is less expensive than a taxi. Frugality has been maintained!

I was carrying a lot more in the way of cables and supplies than usual and my roller bag weighed in at over 47 lbs. I checked it in at the jetBlue counter with no problems. during the online checkin process I upgraded to an Even More Space seat for just $60. In addition to gaining a lot of leg room, I was able to use the premium security line.

The Plane

The flight was smooth, I had two empty seats to my left, and we arrived on time. I read Jason Merkoski’s new book, Burning the Page on my Kindle Fire HD, and balanced it out with the latest copy of Make, which I read in paper form. Jason’s book was informative and entertaining, but I do need to write to him to correct his claim to being Amazon’s first technology evangelist. I beat him to that honor by several years.

I found the baggage claim and took the shuttle bus to the Avis facility and presented my credentials for my rental. I explained my plan to Kim, and she said that I was eligible for a small SUV. After lots of typing and a consultation with the supervisor, she was finally able to book it for me at the rate I had reserved. I went out to the parking lot and found my wheels, a nicely equipped Ford Edge:

My Wheels

I mounted my phone and my Contour camera on the windshield, spoke my destination into Waze and drove to my hotel. I missed just one turn (before leaving the airport) and made it to my hotel in short order. Here’s a time lapse video of my drive, captured on the Contour camera and then processed using ffmpeg:

After parking and checking in, I took a short walk to get some fresh air and took a nice picture of the Charles River:

Charles River at Night

I ate a dinner of clam chowder and Caesar salad, called my wife, and ended the day by watching half of an episode of the short-lived comedy series, Better Off Ted.

Tomorrow is Monday. I will write a couple of blog posts, meet with a couple of companies here in Boston, and then proceed to the main event, the Boston AWS Meetup.

Here’s my MapBox for the day:

Total driving for the day: 5.3 miles.

Welcome to the AWS Road Trip Blog

Welcome to the AWS Road Trip Blog!

The Story

In the last ten years I have spoken at AWS, PHP, Linux, Perl, Java, and .NET user groups in the US, Europe, and Asia. User groups are simultaneously less formal and more intense than conference sessions. Instead of the usual 20-30 minutes allotted to a speaker at a conference, a good session at a user group can sometimes last 60 to 90 minutes, with a lot of that time devoted to heavy-duty Q&A. With time for announcements and some pizza, it is not unusual for the entire meeting to last for two hours.

For several years I have wanted to drive across the United States, speaking at as many user groups as possible. After lots of planning, I am happy to kick off the first AWS User Group Road Trip.

The Plan

The road trip will begin on Sunday, May 12th when I fly from Seattle to Boston. I will pick up my rental car and drive across the United States, speaking at a total of 14 technology user groups. I am also delivering a few private talks that are not on my public schedule.

I’m going to be blogging, tweeting, and taking lots of pictures along the way. You can follow my tweets and subscribe to this blog to follow my cross-country journey!

The Map

The Schedule

The response to my initial post on the AWS Blog was really encouraging. With a little bit of poking around, I was able to find groups in just about every city of interest along the way. Even better, every group was very flexible and was able to accomodate my schedule. In some cases, multiple groups in the same city have joined forces to create a bigger and stronger local event.

Here is my itinerary:

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Week 4

  • Monday, June 3 - Seattle, WA - NW Cloud.

Some of the groups still have seats available! Please click through and register if you would like to attend. I’ll have some AWS credits and stickers for attendees and hope to see you there.

Along the Way

This is not going to be a leisurely vacation road trip, but do hope to see some sights, enjoy some regional cuisine, and have some fun along the way. I am planning to visit one attraction from Roadside America each day to keep things interesting. I’m open to suggestions that aren’t too time consuming.

I’m an early riser; my alarm clock is usually set for 5:15 AM and I am often at the keyboard by 5:30. In order to get an early start and to avoid hot, late-afternoon drives, I’m planning to get up at 4-something and be on the road well before 6 AM. This should allow me to make good progress before noon so that I can arrive at my destination in time to wash up, relax, and catch up on email.

I will be capturing video from my car using a Contour+2 camera, generously loaned to me for the trip by the good folks at Contour. The Contour site stores static images and videos in Amazon S3 and uses Amazon CloudFront for content distribution.

I will be navigating using Waze, a free traffic and navigation app that runs on my Droid and aggregates traffic and accident data supplied by other Waze users on the same route. Waze runs on AWS, so my car will be, in effect, an AWS client!

AWS Powered

One of my original goals for this trip was to make it cloud-powered, using consumer brands, products, and services that make use of AWS in some way. Here’s what I have come up with so far:

Behind the Scenes

I’m using this trip as an opportunity to learn about and experiment with static blogging.

I launched an EC2 instance using the Bitnami Ruby Stack from the AWS Marketplace.

I installed Octopress, and S3cmd. did some customization to make it easy for me to deploy my site to s3, and generated my first post:

rake new_post["Welcome to the AWS Road Trip Blog"]

I use Emacs to write each post in Markdown. At any point I can generate a new static site and upload it to S3 like this:

rake generate deploy

The entire process takes less than 12 seconds!

I’ll upload images to S3 using the venerable S3Fox tool, and will construct CloudFront URLs using S3Fox’s convenient right-click menu.

Extra Credit

In addition to my work on the AWS team as Principal Evangelist, I am also a part-time graduate student at the University of Washington. I will graduate from the MCDM (Master’s of Communication in Digital Media) program in June of 2013. I am using this road trip as an independent study project to earn my final 5 credits.

See You There

I hope to see you at an event in your city. If you read this and come to an event, please take a minute to say hello! I want to meet and learn from as many AWS fans and users as possible on this trip. See you soon!

– Jeff;