Geneva and BOINC

26 May - 2 June 2024

random trip report

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The 20th - and possibly last - BOINC workshop is in Geneva, where it all began.

Sunday 26 May

I BART to SFO and take a Condor flight (nice) to Frankfurt.

Monday 27 May

Approaching Frankfurt, I converse with the young woman next to me, who works at UCSF as a research in the sociology of nursing (or something like that). A good conversation, but I can't remember much of it.

2 hour layover, then ITA flight to Geneva.

I take the train to town. Note: public transportation in Europe is frictionless. Any time you need a ticket, there's a kiosk that takes credit cards. On the bus in France (see below) there's a small kiosk on the bus itself.

I've been to Geneva a number of times, though not for a decade or so. There are deja-vu points everywhere.

My Airbnb room is on Rue de la Servette, only a couple of blocks from the train station. The train to CERN stops right outside the door. I meet the host, Isaac, a young fireman. The room is great; it faces onto a courtyard and is quiet. The apartment has a nice kitchen and is perfect for my needs.

I walk to a grocery store and get some excellent bread, sliced chicken, salad, granola, milk, and beer. On the web I locate an early-music concert at Temple de Saint Gervais at 8. It's CF40, which is too much, so I take a stroll by the lake and return to the church at 8:45.

Sure enough, after a few minutes people come out for intermission, and I sneak in.

The Consort is fairly large: ~12 instruments and 8 singers. The conductor is one of the singers. He conducts facing the audience, which is weird, and his conducting style reminds me a sculptor carving a nude female figure out of a block of marble, then dancing the lambada with her.

They do a Bach 'Lutheran Mass', which is quite good and has various solos. Afterward the audience applauds for a bizarrely long time; it's a Geneva thing.

Tues 28 May

It's a beautiful mostly-sunny day. I go to cafe in small nearby park and work on my laptop. I spend most of the day in my room working on Numula, fixing a bug in normalized time adjustment, and code cleanup.

Around 6 I meet Matt Blumberg at the Burger King near the train station. We walk to the old town and see the ancient church with the murals and cannons.

We walk by a restaurant where the sign says 'Fondue au Deux Fromages'. It used to say 'Trois' but they taped it over.

We end up at a kebab place along Rue de la Servette and make the mistake of ordering Salad au Poulet, which is bland and bad. After that we walk through neighborhoods to the east, where there are amazing apartment buildings that look like something out Lord of the Rings. People are playing badminton in the community center.

Wed 29 May

Zero sleep; not adjusted to time zone. I take the tram to CERN, 1st day of the workshop. It's in the 'Idea Cube', which is near the visitor center. I get there early and wander around.

Many old friends are here, including Nicolas Maire, Arnaud Legrand, and Ben Segal. It's wonderful to see them after so many years.

I give my opening talk.

We have lunch (in the Cube? I forget). Then there's a BOINC 20th birthday cake, with two Roman candles, sort of like blow-torches, which I have to blow out.

One of the attendees is Polina, a young Russian woman who is participating in an impact study of publications by BOINC projects. She climbs mountains, and is planning to do Mt. Elbrus. She's singing in a community choir concert that evening.

I have dinner with Arnaud at a Vietnamese place near my room, and we catch up. Then we walk to Temple de la Madeleine, an ancient church in the old district, to hear Polina's concert. The music is non-classical: a nice arrangement of 'Country Road', an audience sing-along number, etc. The place is packed and the music is pretty good.

Interesting beers have not arrived in Geneva. But Google reveals a place called 'La Taproom' that claims to have IPAs. I go there with with Andy and Arnaud. The IPA is decent but pricey (e.g. CF10); the others get a beer that's oddly sweet.

Andy is stressed out because he was given two slides to cover in his talk, and he doesn't know what they mean.

Walking back to my room, I have a brief moment of rapture: walking through a foreign city, perhaps slightly lost and a bit tipsy, makes me feel fully alive.

Thu 30 May

Another bad sleep night - I was so tired last night that I fell into bed without taking my various sleep aids, and I didn't sleep until I realized this around 3:30 and took them.

I walk N toward the United Nations area. We meet at 9 AM in a place called the 'Trust Room'. A few more talks.

View from the roof

Then we go to some outdoor biotech area for lunch.

We walk through a plaza where there's a (possibly permanent) protest by Iranians against the current regime, with lots of posters showing people who were killed in the 1988 massacre and 'morality police' atrocities.

We go to the UN complex for me to accept BOINC's WSIS prize. This involves standing around while an endless parade of 2nd- and 3rd-world projects, most of which sound pretty dubious, go up to get their little gold-framed certificates and get photographed. Finally it's my turn.

We return to the Trust Room, and I close the afternoon with my talk about future BOINC development. Francois and Andy are at CERN at an event involving showing BOINC to young people.

The rest of us walk from the UN down to the lake, and then along the lake to a local-institution fondue place that's located in a pier on the lake itself.

It's chaotic. We get seated. Ben is certain there's table service, but there's not. You have to order from a stand outside, where there are extremely long lines. Matt and I go out and get in line. Signs say 'cash only' so Matt goes back inside to get cash, and returns with CF120. I realize that the middle line takes credit cards. The women in front of us take incredibly long to place their order. Ben joins us. It turns out the fondue is CF27 per person, not per pot. Wine is CF45 per bottle. Anyway, it ends up totaling CF360, which Ben puts on this card. This was not his intent, but no plan was made for how people would pay individually.

We return to the table and the food arrives. It's reasonably good, but the room is quite loud and I quickly get Restaurant Claustrophobia and flee, taking Andy with me.

Andy and I walk back through the red light district, where he's staying in an Airbnb. Apparently the owner kept the apartment key in an unlocked mailbox, and the previous night someone got in the front door, took the key, entered the apartment, and was opening the door to Andy's room, when he shouted and the guy took off, with the key. Andy was rattled by this. He barricaded the door with a chair. To the owner's credit he changed the locks the next day.

Anyway, Andy and I return to La Taproom, but it's occupied by a 'private party'. We go around the corner and find 'La Galerie', a tiny and funky pub.

They have what they call an IPA; it's OK. I order one but then notice that they take cash only. I excuse myself and go in search of an ATM. There's one in a nearby bank but it's closed. I return to the bar; the beer is still there. They tell me to go ahead and drink it; they don't care. Later Matt arrives with cash, and I get him to pay for it.

We sit outside. There's a group of 4 guys, pretty drunk, playing various games including board games and some kind of thumb wrestling that involves both fists. They're very affectionate but (according to Matt) not gay.

Fri 31 May

The workshop 'hackfest' day. I sleep in a bit, then take the train to CERN. The hackfest is in the IT building, which is a hefty walk from the entrance gate. It feels odd that the world's leaders in computing (e.g. Tim Berners-Lee) are housed in a decaying 1950s-era building.

Frederica, Patrick Schofer, Laurence, Andy, and Vitalii are there, and an Italian CERN guy whose name I forget. He leads us on a tour of the antimatter generator, which has a lot of concrete, steel structures, cryogenics, and dozens of racks of computers and electronics.

We have lunch at the CERN cafeteria, then return to the conference room for a productive discussion of Docker, MQTT, and Web-based GUIs.

Levi Rybalov shows up, complaining about how hard it is to start a company.

I walk back to the train through medium rain. After dinner in my room, I go to the Salle Frank-Martin, in the old district, to hear a concert of the U. Geneva symphony. They're not very good so I leave at intermission (missing Marquez' Danzon 2).

Walking down the hill, I hear interesting piano music coming from the Temple de la Madeleine. I go inside. A young man - Fernando Lopez Flores, from Bolivia - is playing the Rondo from the Waldstein. The reverberant church makes the Steinway grand sound like a choir plus an organ. Flores takes this into account with a slow tempo, and the effect is stunning.

The audience is about 10 people, all in the front row. Flores accompanies another young man, Pablo Cacares Ranibar, in an arrangement of a Bolivian song,

then the two of them play a wonderful Andean 4-hands piece with audience-participation clapping.

I leave and return to La Galerie.

Some Algerians are standing out front. Matt and Andy arrive. We get beers and sit inside. A large and excessively friendly guy with a big black beard talks to us in various languages. Another guy, stoned-looking, plays some piano. I play a bit of the Maple Leaf Rag, which excites the bearded guy. He pours me a glass of passionfruit-infused brandy that he made himself, with various pulp and seeds. I drink some of it to be polite. I recite a bit of The Shooting of Dan McGrew.

Sat 1 June

The traditional post-workshop hike turns out to be just me and Andy (Francois is in Paris to visit his infirm mother, Matt has a visitor, and everyone else has left).

At Francois' suggestion we set out to climb Cret de la Niege in the Juras. We take the tram to CERN. There's a longish wait for the bus, so we tour the CERN visitor center.

It's new and pretty well done. They sell old digital tapes on which collision data is stored. Tim Berners-Lee's NeXT workstation is on display. There's a small display touting the Grid, but (oddly) nothing at all about LHC@home.

We get food and water at the gas station store, and catch the bus (20 min) to Thoiry de Allemogne. No cell service; fortunately Andy has a trail-maps app. We walk uphill through the town and then into a web of roads and trails that lead up the mountain. Most of the way it's a steep road paved in decaying concrete - not the most pleasant of surfaces.

The sun comes out and it gets warm. We labor up the hill, gaining a total of 3,300'. I sweat and take off my T-shirt. We encounter many other hikers, and a number of wiry 70-ish trail runners. We discuss Andy's professional and personal situations.

Eventually we pass the tree line, and stop for lunch at an overlook. After that it levels out a bit but continues to gain altitude. A sign says 1 hour to Cret de la Niege, and by now it's nearly 3, and Andy has a plane to catch (at 9), and we're pretty damn tired (especially me) so we continue to a small house, from which a young woman emerges. I climb a token rock. Then we turn around.

The way down is tortuous because it's slippery (wet rocks, mud, leaf-covered concrete) and we don't have poles. Andy's knees hurt; my feet hurt and my back is sore.

We make it back to the village and catch the bus. I get off at CERN, Andy says goodbye and continues toward the airport.

I finish the food in my room. At 10 PM I rendezvous with Matt. We go to a park where a red classic truck is being used as a sort of bar. It's their opening day; there's a DJ and free food. We hang for a little and discuss women. Matt is intrigued by what the DJ is playing (dance music with various ethnic influences) and uses his song-finder app repeatedly.

We saunter over to La Galerie. Different people are there tonight. We go upstairs and look at an exhibit of small pictures, some with words superimposed. We don't get it. Across the street there's another 1-room art gallery, with large neon paintings by the father of the owner. Several people drink beer on a sofa outside.

Nearby there's a funky bike repair shop, and rustic-looking kitchen with no signage. La Galerie has become Matt's favorite bar, and he feels that this particular block is the grooviest place in at least in Geneva, perhaps farther afield. I completely agree. Geneva is full of treasures that you can only find by exploring on foot.


Mixed feelings: nostalgia, pride, regret. Lots of old friends. And I love Geneva, especially the funky parts.

But BOINC is dying, and so are these workshops. In spite of the efforts of Matt, Francois, and Laurence, attendance wasn't the projected 35. It was more like 12, and by day 3 it was down to 6 (really 3) and the hike was 2. People had other things to do.

There was the idea that we'd hob-nob with the Citizen Science world and with governmental cyberinfrastructure poobahs. There wasn't the faintest whiff of either. All good things must come to an end.

Copyright 2024 © David P. Anderson