Sunday, 19 October 2008

A Whirlwind Trip to Germany

Last Saturday I began my whirlwind trip to Germany. My flight left Toronto at 5:30PM and arrived in Frankfurt at 7:ooAM . The place was fogged in so badly I couldn't see the runway, or anything else for that matter, until we actually touched down. That was very disconcerting. I'm always surprised that customs in the EU is organized with a separate queue per server given it's a well established fact that a single queue with multiple servers has a better average- and worst-case wait times. The Germans have such an organized and precise society---the wine glasses all have a 0.2L mark---you'd just assume this would have been optimized long ago.

I had to purchase tickets for the train, so I had to get in line again; a single queue, thank goodness. I didn't know how to use the automated machines; although it's very handy to have the British flag to switch to English, but when all the buttons are labeled in German, that doesn't help nearly as much as you might think. My line moved so slowly that I estimated the arrival at the front of the queue would take more than 1/2 an hour, so the first class lineup became way too attractive to overlook. As such, I queue jumped and was on the desired train five minutes later, headed for Köln where I transferred onto a train to Dortmund. Sightseeing from the train was quite enjoyable; the photos end up with interesting reflection effects.

From Dortmund, I took a taxi to my final destination of Hotel Drei Linden in Lünen; a scrum discussion among eight drivers was needed to determine what to enter into the GPS finder in order to guide the taxi to the final destination. Such helpful people!

Drei Linden is a very quaint hotel, but it turns out there is no internet access on the third floor; keep that in mind if you book there! I immediately started to feel a bit of shortness of breath after having been without internet access already for more than twelve hours. I'd hoped I could find an internet cafe, but apparently Germany doesn't consider Sunday shopping a good thing, so along with the other pedestrian traffic that fine Sunday afternoon, I just pressed my nose to the glass. Lünen is
a very photogenic place. I used the tall steeples to avoid getting lost.

It was a super nice warm day for so late into October which made exploring that much more fun. There were so many quaint sights to see along the river.

Even the small details were very pretty.

The old and the new often stood side-by-side in sharp contrast.

I just love pedestrian street malls, especially when the architecture is so stunning.

I had a nice dinner on the sidewalk cafe in front of the hotel. I had to order from a German menu with no translation help because none of the folks spoke a word of English; thank goodness I can read Dutch well enough to recognize the German/Dutch word for shrimp. After dinner, I headed off to the ice cream shop I'd spotted earlier in the day. On the way back, the sun set on my first day in Germany, as internet withdrawal, and the associated inability to write a blog, took a heavy toll.

On Monday morning, Wolfgang picked me up at the hotel and we headed to itemis' main site in Lünen. This is the view of the steeple from the hotel on that gorgeous fall morning.

This is the building itemis is using right now. Notice the unusual shadow on the building?

From within the building, looking out the circular window, you see this.

At NASA they might build space ships, but in Lünen saucers come in for a landing.

I even got to tour the inside of it, but as with NASA, the aliens were all too elusive.

Here's the new building into which itemis will move when it's completed. It's seen with the footing of the saucer in the foreground. It looks like a land-walker from Star Wars.

Everywhere I go, folks seem to be obsessed with guns! Here's the weapon of choice at itemis: a missile launcher.

Peter wasted no time showing me how to lock and load the lethal weapon.

Wolfgang demonstrated an alternative high-powered firing technique.

Meanwhile Jens maintained an aloof facade. It's always the quiet ones who should concern you the most!

Itemis functions a little differently than most organizations. Here's a good way to look at it. Most companies will come up with a strategy and then hunt down the skills and resources to carry it out. Itemis tends to look at the skills and resources it has and builds a strategy around those. It's kind of a novel approach, although seemingly obvious. As a result, the focus is on the strengths of each individual. Like Google, they also believe in encouraging people to innovate on company time, so one day a week, you can work on whatever you like. I expect many good things to come from collaborating with itemis!

On Tuesday night, it was time to head out to Hamburg for MDSD, where I stayed at the Empire Riverside Hotel. It was fantastic and, most importantly, it had internet! Axel Uhl of SAP was staying there as well, so the next morning, he and I had breakfast and a chance to chat for a few hours before the start of the workshop.

The facilities for the workshop were very nice and a great group of people attended.

I had the honor of giving the first keynote presentation on the first day. I.e., what I've been calling my "Stupid Modeling talk." I think it went well. For the rest of the conference people felt the need to apologize each time they used the word "meta" so I felt kind of bad.

My talk was followed by Axel's keynote, which I thought was simply excellent. I've never seen him present before and he's a very good presenter. He talked about all the outstanding issues that modeling needs to address on the journey to wide-spread mainstream adoption.

In the afternoon the talks were in German, so mostly what I got out of that was "blah blah blah swim lanes blah blah blah framework blah blah blah EMF blah blah blah." Because I understand Dutch, when I listen to German I feel like I should understand every word, but I can only pick out the words that match Dutch words and the words borrowed from English.

The whole group had a very nice dinner that night at La Dolce Vita in Elmshorn. Here are Sven and I enjoying our red wine:

Later that evening, I met up with Ralph Müller for a drink and a chat at the bar in my hotel. The next morning I did my two hour introduction to EMF.

After that, Ralph gave a great keynote presentation about the Eclipse's open source business model. The Eclipse story is very compelling and Ralph does and excellent job bringing it to life.

In the afternoon, Jan was supposed to present his tutorial on GMF, but he was sick, so I didn't get a chance to see him on this trip. Instead, Robert Wloch, also from itemis, presented the tutorial. Robert did a good job presenting a very complex topic. I was a little frustrated when I tried to follow the tutorial steps, substituting my very simple tree model, and GMF didn't produce a working result.

I finally got to bed at a decent hour that night so the next morning I was all fresh and ready for Sven and Peter's tutorial about Xtext. This was the presentation I enjoyed the most at the workshop. It's quite a complex topic, but by presenting it by way of a complete end-to-end example illustrating the development of a simple textual DSL for state machines, it was made to seem simple. Of course I'm particularly interested in textual DSLs, because XML has worn very thin for me, so I just loved this talk.

In the afternoon, Arno Haase presented Xpand and Xtend.

The combination of Xpand and Xtend has some distinct advantages over JET, particularly Xpand's decomposition into smaller components and the associated aspect-oriented extensibility of those components. I have this obsession about needing the templates to produce exactly the format I want without need for a formatter on the results, so I think Xpand needs a tiny bit of work to make it perfect in my eyes. Arno had a bit of help from Karsten who did all the driving leaving Arno free to present; Karsten was kind enough to order for me the book "Pillars of the Earth" which he says is the best book he's ever read. Isn't that nice!

I think everyone agreed it was a great workshop. I certainly enjoyed it a very much. I want to thank Simon Zambrovski in particular for helping to organize such an excellent event, for shuttling me between the train in Hamburg and the Nordakademie in Elmshorn.

My plane back to Toronto via Frankfurt left at 8:15AM, so I had to get up bright and early. There were some real clowns on the plane!

Just twelve hours later, I was home in time to enjoy a beautiful afternoon in the garden.

I'm already looking forward to my next trip to Germany for ESE and to Paris for MD Day.


Jens Wagener said...

Hi Ed!

I have a similar problem even though I speak German. When Sven talks to me it also sounds like "blah blah blah swim lanes blah blah blah framework blah blah blah EMF blah blah blah" to me ;)


marco mosconi said...


thanks for your summary of this event. It's impressive, how you always find the time to report so comprehensively. And these nice pictures ...

Regarding your problems with the GMF tutorial: you didn't raise your hand, did you? ;-)


Karsten Thoms said...

Hi Ed!

So now you have seen Lünen, you took really nice photos from here. Hopefully I will see your place one day.
It was really a pleasure to met you in person.


Robert Wloch said...

Hi Ed!

It's been a pleasure meeting you at this event. I'm looking forward to visit your beautiful garden next summer.

However, I'm quite sorry for having you lost in GMF at the tutorial. But I guess that happens when you don't follow the steps and don't raise your arm to ask for help. ;-) Anyways, I did a review on your EMF tree example and created a GMF editor for it. Please check your mail for the model files.