Josh Work Professional Organizations Trip Reports Conference Report: 2002 LISA

The following document is intended as the general trip report for Josh Simon at the 16th Systems Administration Conference (LISA 2002) in Philadelphia, PA from November 3-8, 2002. It is going to a variety of audiences, so feel free to skip the parts that don't concern you. A more complete version, including additional session writeups from other attendees, will be available at

Saturday, November 2

Woke up at 5am Chicago time to catch a 6am shuttle to O'Hare. (The last time I'm likely to use those shuttles. <Sniff>.) Got there without incident, grabbed a Cinnabon for breakfast, managed to handle the gate change, and awaaay we went. On time departure, early arrival, and my bags arrived reasonably quickly on the conveyor. Unfortunately, that's where things got a little weird. Managed to eventually get the "hotel shuttle" — which was a minivan from one of several companies — to pick me up and get me to the hotel. Traffic in downtown Philadelphia was a mess, caused by a lot of trucks blocking one of two lanes for loading or unloading, or by a lot of idiot drivers who don't know how to parallel park.

Unpacked, ate lunch in the hotel restaurant ("Allie's American Grill: Home of the $12 mediocre cheeseburger! Now with even SLOWER service!"), fought my way through rude nephrologists, and helped Moose and a couple of student slaves do tutorial handout setup. Got into a minor difference of opinion with a hotel security idiot. (Him: You're making a mess. Me: Yes, we have to unpack these boxes and then save the intact open ones for later. Him: But this is a public space. Me: Yes, and we'll clean up when we're done. Now go talk to Dan (pointing). I have to admit I was sorely tempted to say "And if your rat bastard idiots in management hadn't decided to extend the nephrologists' stay in blatant disregard of the signed contract our group had with the hotel, we wouldn't be making this mess in a public space, so go piss into the wind you stupid nazi wannabe." But I was good and didn't.)

Did tutorial handouts from when registration opened (early at 5:30 because everyone was more or less ready) then went out to dinner with some folks at an Irish brew pub. I had some fairly good fish and chips. Then it was back to the hotel for some hot tub time and so to bed.

Sunday, November 3

Sunday was the SAGE Executive Committee meeting. The minutes will eventually be posted online, so all I'll say here is that it went remarkably well — we were actually finished by 5pm! (Of course, we noticed the week after the conference ended that we forgot to go back and approve previous meetings' minutes. Oops. That'll happen through an e-mail vote Real Soon Now.)

After the meeting, we all went to dinner at a nice Italian place whose name escapes me (Maggiano's). Had a very nice white wine (ack! I don't remember even the varietal) with my prosciutto-and-mozarella appetizer and risotto di mare (with shrimp, lobster, crab, and mussels) entree, all of which were delicious.

After getting back to the hotel, the Online Services Committee assembled in David Parter's room (hereinafter referred to as "Club 770") for an in-person meeting. We hashed out some issues, figured out who would best handle them, and adjourned when Strata Chalup brought out the "Hello, Parter!"-decorated and -shaped cake she'd made. Then we adjourned to the bar and I left for bed since it was just way too smoky for me there.

Monday, November 4

Today was my unassigned day. I slept in (missing a teleconference for work, oops), did an overpriced French bistro lunch with Trey and JD, and did Hallway Track work back at the conference. In the afternoon and before dinner, Lois and I took a break and went to the hot tub to soak for a while. Then went back to our respective rooms and showered and got ready for dinner.

This evening for dinner I went out with 11 other nutcases, including Lois, Moose, Marybeth, Dee, Derrick, Gus, the Meatball, Brian, to the Melting Pot, a tres yummy fondue place where we pigged out, got mediocre service (they tried hard, weren't too busy, but were way understaffed and got lost and confused a few times), but also got several alcoholic drinks (like 5 of Gus' 10 vodka tonics and some of Dee's wine and I think one of Lois' screwdrivers). Cheese fondue with bread, apples, and veggies for appetizers (our half-table got one each of beer-and-cheddar and wine-and-swiss); followed by salads; then a meat fondue with different broths for the entree (including filet, sirloin, teriyaki beef, chicken, shrimp, lobster, duck, potatoes, squash, and more stuff I can't remember); and completed with chocolate fondue (we got one each of dark chocolate and baileys-and-milk chocolate). Rolled back to the cars and back to town for the evening's wind-down at Club 770.

Tuesday, November 5

Tuesday began with the Advanced Topics Workshop, once again ably hosted by Adam Moskowitz (recovering from a nasty 3-day virus given to him by his travelling companion's nephew, if I recall the provenance). We did a quicker-than-usual around-the-room round of introductions, had some interesting discussions, went through our systems administration aphorisms in preparation for a SAGE poster, talked about things we learned and new tools, and made our annual predictions. (A more detailed writeup will appear in ;login:.)

Tuesday evening was the SAGE Executive Committee, USENIX Board of Directors, and USENIX Staff dinner, along with some hangers-on (like our keynote speaker). We went to a Burmese restaurant, Rangoon, up on 9th Street. The chili chicken was fantastic, and the lemon grass beef was yummy and the shrimp noodles delicious and.... <Drool>. I was certainly stuffed, though some people (notably Lois, Trey, and JD) lost out because they had to leave early to get back for the SAGE Certification BOF.

After dinner (and a wet walk back to the hotel through an icky drizzle) I went to what Moose calls the MOUSE BOF. A lot of new faces, some good discussion, and an early adjournment so some of us went to the hot tub to decompress. Following the hot tub, we were off to Club 770 for some additional decompression.

Wednesday, November 6

The conference itself began on Wednesday (following three days of 39 tutorials, 5 workshops, and many SAGE meetings).

Session 1: Announcements and Keynote

We opened up with the usual announcements about attendance and paper submissions and presentation of the best paper awards:

Immediately after the announcements was the keynote address by Jim Reese at Google about their infrastructure (which many seemed to think was among LISA's best keynotes ever). (Additional information will be on the web site.)

Session 2: Refereed Papers: Working Smarter

After the keynote I went to the Refereed Papers (General) track session. The first paper was winner of one of the Best Papers award ("Work-Augmented Laziness with the Los Task Request System"); the second was done by my friend Dee, who I'd conned, er, convinced (yeah that's the ticket) to submit ("Spam Blocking with a Dynamically Updated Firewall Ruleset"); and the third was by last year's best paper winner ("Holistic Quota Management: The Natural Path to a Better, More Efficient Quota System").

Dee said later she was very nervous, but it didn't show. She (actually, all the presenters in this session) did a fine job.

Lunch: Reading Terminal Market

For lunch, a group of us — me, Luke Kanies, Adam Moskowitz, James O'Kane, Mark Roth, and Elizabeth Zwicky — went across the street from the hotel to the Reading Terminal Market. Part of the train and bus terminal, it's a fresh-produce and open space marketplace with some take-out restaurants. We got cheesesteaks (hey, we're in Philadelphia!) and they were definitely yummilicious.

Session 3: Meetings

After lunch, I got corralled by Ellen Mitchell who asked about serving on the Executive Committee. She, David Parter, and I chatted for a while and more people came up to listen and occasionally contribute. It was a worthwhile meeting, even if Ellen decides not to run. (This report is being written before the candidate submission deadline.)

I also had a one-on-one meeting with AEleen Frisch, the LISA 2003 conference chair. She invited me to be on her committee. Even though I've been on 4 of the last 6 (1997, 1999, 2000, and 2002), I agreed, subject to my employer's right to veto.

Session 4: Invited Talk: The Constitutional and Financial Arguments Against Spam (Dan Klein)

I was session chair for Dan Klein's invited talk on (or perhaps I should say "against") spam. I'd put together a humorous introduction and run it past him first:

Good afternoon. Welcome to the talk from Mr. Milk Eggs Cheese.... Oh, sorry, that's my shopping list.

Welcome to the talk from Mr. Dan Klein. He's been called many things, some of which we can actually say here. He has run ISPs, adult web sites, and the Tutorial tracks at USENIX and SAGE conferences, all in addition to his demanding job as an overpriced consultant. Dan is here to speak about the constitutional and financial arguments against spam. And now, with your permission, or maybe entirely without it, Dan Klein.

He spoke for a little over an hour on why spam is theft, on its true costs to end-users, why it should be made illegal, and what we as users and as administrators can do about it. Regardless of whether you believed his numbers and bought his argument, it's certainly worth thinking about — and it did indeed lead to some interesting questions and discussions afterwards.

Evening activities

This evening began with the SAGE Community Forum, where SAGE Executive Director Rob Kolstad talked to the assembled masses (and there was a very large crowd this year) about what was going on with SAGE, including the web sites (, SAGEweb (, and SAGEwire (, the new SAGEnews newsletter, the revamping and restarting of the Jobs board on SAGEweb and the Mentoring program, the release of the 9th booklet in the Short Topics series, and the latest news from the Certification program.

After the Forum a group of 9 of us went to the Palm restaurant in what may or may not have been the theater district for deadbeef, so called because the malloc() system call sets its value to the hex value 0xDEADBEEF when undefined. Unfortunately we took the concierge's recommendation on the restaurant. It looked 4 star when we got there, but we had more than a few problems: (a) We arrived early for our reservations and weren't seated until 20 minutes AFTER them; (b) they took forever to take even drink orders, let alone the entree orders; (c) they misplaced, lost, or plain forgot one of the appetizer/salads; (d) they delivered overcooked meals in several instances; (e) the servers and bus staff were shouting to each other across the restaurant; (f) the desserts were tossed down onto the table.... We were definitely unimpressed.

Following the deadbeef dinner we went to Club 770 for drinks, conversation, and relaxation.

Thursday, November 7


Managed somehow to get up in time to meet Moose and Bobert for breakfast. We were joined by wheelchair-bound Lynda True (recovering from foot surgery), munched the typical Marriott breakfast buffet fare, and chatted while we tried to spin our brains back up.

Session 1: Security: (Peter Salus)

I attended Peter Salus' entertaining Internet Security talk. It wasn't very much on security so much as traffic analysis of the Internet during outages and disasters. I enjoyed it but neglected to take notes, so the details will have to wait for their appearance in ;login:.

Session 2: Quiz Show Prep I

After the morning break I hunted down Rob Kolstad, who was putting the finishing touches on the qualifying questionnaires for the Quiz Show. Took the exam to test it, replaced an ambiguous question, and ran down to the Kinko's off the lobby to print up 300 copies for distribution before lunchtime.

Lunch: Take-Out Dim Sum

For lunch a few of us went out to an all-day every-day dim sum restaurant for carry-out, since Moose was in too much pain to walk that far. Brought back enough food for five, which was good because there were four of us (me, Moose, Marybeth, and Frank) in addition to the people from the peanut gallery who nibbled bits. Very yummy. In retrospect we should've ordered more crab claws.

Sessions 3-4: Quiz Show Prep II

After lunch I went to Rob Kolstad's room to write the questions for the quiz show. We did a lot of code updates, some quick bug fixes, and wrote some questions.

Evening activities

Skipped out on the reception at the Franklin Institute to catch up on work and personal e-mail, Live Journal, and post two days of summaries of LISA to SAGEwire. I intended to nap, but ran out of time thanks to a fax from my lawyers involving the inspector's report. And then I had to attend the SAGE Candidates Forum from 9-11pm.

The Candidates Forum, moderated by former SAGE Board member and current SAGE Broad Pat Wilson, went pretty well. Each of the 14 candidates (6 incumbents) had a minute or two for introductions and the rest of the time answering questions posed by the audience. To help keep things moving, questioners could ask up to three specific individuals for comments — with random selections allowed if there were no specific people you wanted to ask. I managed to escape with very few (2 or 3, actually) questions directed to me. (I'm sure I'll have more to answer once the candidates forum online at SAGEwire opens up toward the end of the month.)

Ended out the evening with a soak in the hot tub (which finally had gotten hot) and the visit to Club 770 for drinks.

Friday, November 8

Sessions 1-2: Quiz Show Prep III

I started by tracking down Rob and doing some general hallway-track stuff. Then Adam, Moose, and I went up to Rob's room to do a run-through on the questions, testing the questions and answers and getting Dan familiar with the latest changes to the software. Pretty standard for a rehearsal meeting, actually.

Lunch: LISA 2003 Program Committee Planning

AEleen had asked me to join the 2003 program committee, and so I joined the staff and prospects for a 12:30 working lunch. Unfortunately, I spent virtually all the time scoring the qualifying questionnaires for the Quiz Show. Of the 35 questions, there was a group of people who scored in the 28-29 range, a stagger through the 20s into the upper teens, and two outliers at 13 and 8. (Not counting the obviously-intended to be funny ones with no names attached.)

Session 3: Quiz Show Prep IV

After the lunch meeting, went to the terminal room to print out the lists of contestants and alternates and the additional resources (name placards, answer sheets for the judges, and so on). We also updated the end credits to list the folks who donated prizes (ranging from dead presidents to a 27-inch flat-screen TV set) and got everything all ready to roll.

Session 4: Quiz Show

At last, the culmination of two days of my efforts (as well as a lot of time from Rob, Dan, our volunteer testers, our production staff, and so on): The Quiz Show. We went through the usual 3-contestants-per-round, 3-rounds-plus-finals again. Categories included Batman, Celebrity Geeks, Famous Lovers, Hosts (famous hosts), Name That Daemon, News Anchors (fill in the missing half of the name or the partner), Parse This (anagrams for "parse"), Showbiz, and Unix Files.

All three initial rounds were close-fought matches with the winner decided only in the last few questions. The inidividual round winners were Cory Bosley, Doug Hughes, and Paul Sand. The grand prize winner was Paul Sand, beating Doug Hughes by a narrow margin of 600 points (or the last 2 questions).

Three funny moments from the show are worth mentioning:

Grand fun.

Evening activities

Started off by going to dinner with Dan, Karen, Geoff, and Mike at the hotel's steak place. Even though it was at the hotel, it was better service, better ambience, better food, and better value for the money than the Palm was.

After dinner, changed into my usual bartending drag for the dead dog party. Tended bar off and on, schmoozed with folks in the common area, and beat Elizabeth twice at Set (though in her favor she wasn't paying attention in the first game until she realized I was playing to win).

Gave up and went to bed around 1 or 2am.

Saturday, November 9

Today was the day to sleep in — I didn't wake up until nearly 11am! I finished packing and checked out of the hotel, left my luggage (including the laptop but what the heck, it's insured) with the bell staff, and went to Chinatown for dim sum with Moose, Dee, Joe R., Bob Apthorpe, Elizabeth Zwicky, and two others I'm spacing on. Had more really yummy (and inexpensive!) food until we were stuffed. Walked back to the hotel with Moose then ransomed my luggage from the bell staff (darn, nobody stole the laptop), hopped a shuttle to the airport with a couple of other geeks, and hung out in our mutual concourse for an hour or so before our respective flights.

Flew home on an earlier flight (which was 2/3 empty), arriving on time, getting my luggage in a reasonable amount of time, and caught a speedy shuttle home. Ordered pizza, unpacked, ate dinner, and collapsed.

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Last update Jul16/05 by Josh Simon (<>).