Akademy 2017

Last month, I attended KDE's annual conference, Akademy 2017. This year, it was held in Almeria, a small Andalusian city on the south-east coast of Spain.

The name of the conference is no misspelling, it's part of KDE's age old tradition of naming everything to do with KDE with a 'k'.

It was a collection of amazing, life-changing experiences. It was my first solo trip abroad and it taught me so much about travel, KDE, and getting around a city with only a handful of broken phrases in the local language.

Travel

My trip began from the recently renamed Kempegowda International Airport, Bangalore. Though the airport is small for an international airport, the small size of the airport works to its advantage as it is very easy to get around. Check-in and immigration was a breeze and I had a couple of hours to check out the loyalty card lounge, where I sipped soda water thinking about what the next seven days had in store.

The first leg of my trip was on a Etihad A320 to Abu Dhabi, a four hour flight departing at 2210 on 20 July. The A320 isn't particularly unique equipment, but then again, it was a rather short leg. The crew onboard that flight seemed to be a mix of Asian and European staff.

Economy class in Etihad was much better than any other Economy class product I'd seen before. Ample legroom, very clean and comfortable seats, and an excellent IFE system. I was content looking at the HUD-style map visualisation which showed the AoA, vertical speed, and airspeed of the airplane.

On the way, I scribbled a quick diary entry and started reading part 1 of Sanderson's Stormlight Archive - 'The Way of Kings'.

Descent to Abu Dhabi airport started about 3:30 into the flight. Amber city lights illuminated the desert night sky. Even though it was past midnight, the plane's IFE reported an outside temperature of 35C. Disembarking from the plane, the muggy atmosphere hit me after spending four hours in an air-conditioned composite tube.

The airport was dominated by Etihad aircraft - mainly Airbus A330s, Boeing 787-8s, and Boeing 777-300ERs. There were also a number of other airlines part of the Etihad Airways Partners Alliance such as Alitalia, Jet Airways, and some Air Berlin equipment. As it was a relatively tight connection, I didn't stop to admire the birds for too long. I traversed a long terminal to reach the boarding gate for the connecting flight to Madrid.

The flight to Madrid was another Etihad operated flight, only this time on the A320's larger brethren - the A330-200. This plane was markedly older than the A320 I had been on the first leg of the trip. Fortunately, I got the port side window seat in a 2-5-2 configuration. The plane had a long take-off roll and took off a few minutes after 2am. Once we reached cruising altitude, I opened the window shade. The clear night sky was full of stars and I must have spent at least five minutes with my face glued to the window.

I tried to sleep, preparing myself for the long day ahead. Soon after waking up, the plane landed at Madrid Barajas Airport and taxied for nearly half-an-hour to reach the terminal. After clearing immigration, I picked up my suitcase and waited for a bus which would take me to my next stop - the Madrid Atocha Railway Station. Located in the heart of city, the Atocha station is one of Madrid's largest train stations and connects it to the rest of Spain. My train to Almeria was later that day - at 3:15 in the afternoon.

On reaching Atocha, I got my first good look at Madrid.

My facial expression was quite similar

I was struck by how orderly everything was, starting with the traffic. Cars gave the right of way to pedestrians. People walked on zebra crossings and cyclists stuck to the defined cycling lanes. A trivial detail, but it was a world apart from Bangalore. Shining examples of Baroque and Gothic architecture were scattered among newer establishments.

Having a few hours to kill before I had to catch my train, I roamed around Buen Retiro Park, one of Spain's largest public parks. It was a beautiful day, bright and sunny with the warmth balanced out by a light breeze.

My heavy suitcase compelled me to walk slowly which let me take in as much as I could. Retiro Park is a popular stomping ground for joggers, skaters, and cyclists alike. Despite it being 11am on a weekday, I saw plenty of people jogging though the park. After this, I trudged through some quaint cobbled neighbourhoods with narrow roads and old apartment buildings dotted with small shops on the ground floor.

Maybe it was the sleep-deprivation or dehydration after a long flight, but everything felt so surreal! I had to pinch myself a few times - to believe that I had come thousands of miles from home and was actually travelling on my own in a foreign land.

I returned to Atocha and waited for my train. By this time, I came to realise that language was going to be a problem for this trip as very few people spoke English and my Spanish was limited to a few basic phrases - notably 'No hables Espanol' and 'Buenos Dias' :P Nevertheless, the kind folks at the station helped me find the train platform.

Trains in Spain are operated by state-owned train companies. In my case, I would be travelling on a Renfe train going till Almeria. The coaches are arranged in a 2-2 seating configuration, quite similar to those in airplanes, albeit with more legroom and charging ports. The speed of these trains is comparable to fast trains in India, with a top speed of about 160km/hr. The 700km journey was scheduled to take about 7 hours. There was plenty of scenery on the way with sloping mountain ranges and deserted valleys.

Big windows encouraged sightseeing

After seven hours, I reached the Almeria railway station at 10pm. According to Google Maps, the hostel which KDE had booked for all the attendees was only 800m away - well within walking distance. However, unbeknownst to me, I started walking in the opposite direction (my phone doesn't have a compass!). This kept increasing the Google Maps ETA and only when I was 2km off track I realised something was very wrong. Fortunately, I managed to get a taxi to take me to Residencia Civitas - a university hostel where all the Akademy attendees would be staying for the week.

After checking in to Civitas, I made my way to the double room. Judging from the baggage and the shoes in the corner, someone had moved in here before I did. About half an hour later, I found out who - Rahul Yadav, a fourth year student at DTU, Delhi. Exhausted after an eventful day of travel, I switched off the lights and went to sleep.

The Conference

The next day, I got to see other the Akademy attendees over breakfast at Civitas. In all, there were about 60-70 attendees, which I was told was slightly smaller than previous years.

The conference was held at University of Almería, located a few kilometres from the hostel. KDE had hired a public bus for transport to and from the hostel for all the days of the conference. The University was a stone's throw from the Andalusian coastline. After being seated in one of the larger lecture halls, Akademy 2017 was underway.

Konqi! And KDE Neon!

The keynote talk was by Robert Kayne of Metabrainz, about the story of how MusicBrainz was formed out of the ashes of CDDB. The talk set the tone for the first day of Akademy.

The coffee break after the first two talks was much needed. I was grappling with sleep deprivation and jet lag from the last two days and needed all the caffeine and sugar I could get to keep myself going for the rest of the day. Over coffee, I caught up with some KDE developers I met at QtCon.

Throughout the day, there were a lot of good talks, notably 'A bit on functional programming', and five quick lightning talks on a variety of topics. Soon after this, it was time for my very own talk - 'An Introduction to the KIO Library'.

The audience for my talk consisted of developers with several times my experience. Much to my delight, the maintainer of the KIO Library, David Faure was in the audience as well!

Here's where I learned another thing about giving presentations - they never quite go as well as it seems to go when rehearsed alone. I ended up speaking faster than I planned to, leaving more than enough time for a QA round. Just as I was wary about, I was asked some questions about the low-level implementation of KIO which thankfully David fielded for me. I was perspiring after the presentation, and it wasn't the temperature which was the problem 😅 A thumbs up from David afterwards gave me some confidence that I had done alright.

Following this, I enjoyed David Edmundson's talk about Binding properties in QML. The next presentation I attended after this is where things ended up getting heated. Paul Brown went into detail about everything wrong with Kirigami's TechBase page. This drew some, for lack of a better word, passionate people to retaliate. Though it was it was only supposed to be a 10 minute lightning talk, the debate raged on for half-an-hour among the two schools of thought of how TechBase documentation should be written. The only thing which brought the discussion to an end was the bus for returning to Civitas leaving sharp at 8pm.

Still having a bit of energy left after the conference, I was ready to explore this Andalusian city. One thing which worked out nicely on this trip is the late sunset in Spain around this time of the year. It is as bright as day even at around 9pm and the light only starts waning at around 930pm. This gave Rahul and me plenty of time to head to the beach, which was about a 20 minute walk from the hostel.

Here, it struck me how much I loved the way of life here.

Unlike Madrid, Almeria is not a known as a tourist destination so most of the people living there were locals. In a span of about half an hour I watched how an evening unfolds in this city. As the sun started dipping below the horizon, families with kids, college couples, and high-school friends trickled from the beach to the boardwalk for dinner. A typical evening looked delightfully simple and laid-back in this peaceful city.

The boardwalk had plenty of variety on offer - from seafood to Italian cuisine. One place caught my eye, a small cafe with Doner Kebab called 'Taj Mahal'. After a couple of days of eating nothing but bland sandwiches, Rahul and I were game for anything with a hint of spice of it. As I had done in Madrid, I tried ordering Doner Kebab using a mixture of broken Spanish and improvised sign language, only to receive a reply from the owner in Hindi! It turned out that the owner of the restaurant was Pakistani and had migrated to Spain seven years ago. Rahul made a point to ask for more chilli - and the Doner kebabs we got were not lacking in spice. I had more chilli in one kebab than I would normally would have had in a week. At least it was a change from Spanish food, which I wasn't all that fond of.

View from the boardwalk

The next day was similar to the first, only a lot more fun. I spent a lot amount of time interacting with the people from KDE India. I also got to know my GSoC mentor, Boudhayan Gupta (@BaloneyGeek). The talks for this day were as good as the ones yesterday and I got to learn about Neon Docker images, the story behind KDE's Slimbook laptop, and things to look forward to in C++17/20.

The talks were wrapped up with the Akademy Awards 2017.

David Faure and Kevin Ottens

There were still 3 hours of sunlight left after the conference and not being ones to waste it, we headed straight for the beach. Boudhayan and I made a treacherous excursion out to a rocky pier covered with moss and glistening with seawater. My well-worn sandels were the only thing keeping me from slipping onto a bunch of sharply angled stones jutting out from the waves. Against my better judgement, I managed to reach the end of the pier only to see a couple of crabs take interest in us. With the tide rising and the sun falling, we couldn't afford to stay much longer so we headed back to the beach just as we came. Not long after, I couldn't help myself and I headed into the water with enthusiasm I had only knew as a child. Probably more so for BaloneyGeek though, who headed in headfirst with his three-week-old Moto G5+ in his pocket (Spoiler: the phone was irrevocably damaged from half a minute of being immersed in saltwater). In the midst of this, we found a bunch of KDE folks hanging out on the beach with several boxes of pizza and bottles of beer. Free food!

Exhausted but exhilarated, we headed back to Civitas to end another very memorable day in Almeria.

Estacion Intermodal, a hub for public transport in Almeria

With the talks completed, Akademy 2017 moved on to its second leg, which consisted more of BoFs (Birds of a Feather) and workshops.

The QML workshop organised by Anu was timely as my relationship with QML has been hot and cold. I would always go in circles with the QML Getting Started tutorials as there aren't as many examples of how to use QtQuick 2.x as there are with say, Qt Widgets. I understood how to integrate JavaScript with the QML GUI and I will probably get around to making a project with the toolkit when I get the time. Paul Brown held a BoF about writing good user documentation and deconstructed some more pretentious descriptions of software with suggestions on how to avoid falling into the same pitfalls. I sat on a few more BoFs after this, but most of the things went over my head as I wasn't contributing to the projects discussed there.

Feeling a bit weary of the beach, Rahul and I decided to explore the inner parts of the city instead. We planned to go to the Alcazaba of Almeria, a thousand-year-old fortress in the city. On the way, we found a small froyo shop and ordered a scoop with chocolate sauce and lemon sauce. Best couple of euros spent ever! I loved the tart flavour of the froyo and how it complemented the toppings with its texture.

This gastronomic digression aside, we scaled a part of the fort only to find it locked off with a massive iron door. I got the impression that the fort was rarely ever open to begin with. With darkness fast approaching, we found ourselves in a dodgy neighbourhood and we tried to get out as fast as we could without drawing too much attention to ourselves. This brought an end to my fourth night in Almeria.

View from Alcazaba

The BoFs continued throughout the 25th, the last full day of Akademy 2017. I participated in the GSoC BoF where KDE's plans for future GSoCs, SoKs, and GCIs were discussed (isn't that a lot of acronyms!). Finally, this was one topic where I could contribute to the discussion. If there was any takeaway from the discussion for GSoC aspirants, it is to start as early as you can!

I sat on some other BoFs as well, but most of the discussed topics were out of my scope. The Mycroft and VDG BoF did have some interesting exchange of ideas for future projects that I might consider working on if I get free time in the future.

Rahul was out in the city that day, so I had the evening to explore Almeria all by myself.

I fired up Google Maps to see anything of interest nearby. To the west of the hostel was a canal I hadn't seen previously so I thought it would be worth a trip. Unfortunately, because of my poor navigation skills and phone's lack of compass, I ended up circling a flyover for a while before ditching the plan. I decided to go to the beach as a reference point and explore from there.

What was supposed to be a reference point ended up becoming the destination. There was still plenty of sunlight and the water wasn't too cold. I put one toe in the water, and then a foot.

And then, I ran.

Running barefoot alone the coastline was one of the best memories I have of the trip. For once, I didn't think twice about what I was doing. It was pure liberation. I didn't feel the exertion or the pebbles pounding my feet.

Almeria's Beaches

The end of the coastline had a small fort and a dirt trail which I would've very much wanted to cycle on. After watching the sun sink into the sea, I ran till the other end of the boardwalk to find an Italian restaurant with vegetarian spinach spaghetti. Served with a piece of freshly baked bread, dinner was delicious and capped off yet another amazing day in Almeria.

Dinner time!

Day Trip

The 26th was the final day of the conference. Unlike the other days, the conference was only for half a day with the rest of the day kept aside for a day trip. I cannot comment on how the conference went on this day as I had to rush back to the hostel to retrieve my passport, which was necessary to attend the day trip.

Right around 2 in the afternoon we boarded the bus for the day trip. Our first stop was the Plataforma Solar de Almería, a solar energy research plant in Almeria. It houses some large heliostats for focussing sunlight at a point on a tower. This can be used for heating water and producing electricity.

There was another facility used for testing the tolerance of spacecraft heat shields by subjecting them to temperatures in excess of 2000C.

Heliostats focus at the top of the tower

The next stop was at the San José village. Though not too far from Almeria, the village is frequented by tourists much more than Almeria is and has a very different vibe. The village is known for its beaches, pristine clear waters, and white buildings. I was told that the village was used in the shooting of some films such as The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

Our final stop for the day was at the Rodalquilar Gold Mine. Lost to time, the mine had been shut down in 1966 due to the environmental hazards of using cyanide in the process to sediment gold. The mine wouldn't have looked out of place in a video-game or an action movie, and indeed, it was used in the filming of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. There was a short trek from the base of the mine to a trail which wrapped around a hill. After descending from the top we headed back to the hostel.

This concluded my stay in Almeria.

Madrid

After checking out of the hostel early the next morning, I caught a train to Madrid. I had a day in the city before my flight to Bangalore the next day.

I reached Atocha at about 2 in the afternoon and checked in to a hotel. I spent the entire evening exploring Madrid on foot and an electric bicycle through the BiciMAD rental service.

Photo Dump

The Return

My flight back home was on the following morning, on the 28 July. The first leg of the return was yet again, on an Etihad aircraft bound for Abu Dhabi. This time it was an A330-300. It was an emotional 8 hour long flight - with the memories of Akademy still fresh in my mind. To top it off, I finished EarthBound (excellent game!) during the flight.

Descent into Abu Dhabi started about half an hour before landing. This time though, I got to see the bizarre Terminal 1 dome of the Abu Dhabi airport. The Middle East has always been a mystical place for me. The prices of food and drink in the terminal were hard to stomach - 500mL of water was an outrageous 8 UAE Dirhams (₹140)! Thankfully it wasn't a very long layover, so I didn't have to spend too much.

Note to self: may cause tripping if stared at for too long

The next leg was a direct flight to Bangalore, on another Etihad A330. Compared to all the travel I had done in the last two days, the four hour flight almost felt too short. I managed to finish 'Your Lie in April' on this leg.

It was a mix of emotions to land in Bangalore - I was glad to have reached home, but bitter that I had to return to college in only two days.

Akademy 2017 was an amazing trip and I am very grateful to KDE for letting me present at Akademy and for giving me the means of reaching there. I hope I can make more trips like these in the future!

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