Driving and learning about WASM

Last Week I drove from Bellingham, WA where I live to San Francisco for a Web Assembly community group meeting. This meeting actually. I won’t spend any more time than is necessary describing what WASM is. Most of you reading this won’t really care anyway. But the point is that I surrounded by engineers from Google, Apple, Mozilla, Intel, Adobe and several other companies that have a large impact on the world of computing, and the internet specifically. I Also drove over 2000 miles of unfamiliar territory on the way there and back. I took I-5 south all the way down, then took Highway 1 to 101 back north. I saw several amazing sites and learned alot about Northern California. These are my observations about the experience

the Northern California coast feels alot like it’s own country

When crossing the border from Oregon to California, there is a checkpoint in which they stop you and ask you if you have any fruit. This was taking I-5 on the way down. Then on the way back up, going up the coast on Highway 1 and 101 feels almost like it was frozen in mid century America. The entire 600+ miles of Highway was extremely intimate with stores and gas stations right on the road instead of at exits. Several of which didn’t take credit cards. I stopped in a small town called Point Arena to sleep on the way back. My Airbnb host was geniunely interested in hearing about my journey and meeting me. As if hosting Airbnb guests were one of her major outlets to the world. Most other hosts are either absent or extremely scarce, which is actually what I prefer. But I enjoyed meeting this lady and talking to her about her town and my trip.

San Francisco may be a software engineering Mecca, but I definitely don’t want to live there.

Once I got to San Francisco, I parked my car in front of the Airbnb and didn’t move it again until I left. Cars fill every available parking space in the city, so even if the traffic isn’t bad somewhere, finding a place to park is impossible. Uber is pretty much the only way to get around if you don’t want to learn the public transit system, which I didn’t think was worth the risk of missing a meeting when I was only going to be there 3 days.

So, I took the $10 uber rides to and from everywhere. The $10 rides were shared rides, which I was not used to. Passenger who share can be hit or miss. Most of them were fine, but one guy was extremely drunk, started touching me and argued with the driver before getting out of the car. That was a weird experience.

So, I pretty much stuck to going to the Fastly office for the WASM meeting and my Airbnb room. Didn’t really spend any time sight-seeing. It worked out well though, the time I spent in those meetings was well worth it.

Then I actually left a day early because a street sweeper came down the street and forced me to move my car. I couldn’t find a suitable place to move it to, and the meetings were over so I decided to just head back. That also worked out well though, because I spent that extra night at the place in Point Arena. I got to see much more of Northern California.

Watching the way distinguished engineers from the biggest tech companies in the world worked together was inspiring and informative.

Web Assembly’s primary use case involves browser integration, so engineers from Google, Mozilla, and Microsoft were the most vocal representing their interests. There were however also people from much smaller companies there representing theirs.

The weight of the decisions that were being made in that meeting were heavier than anything I’ve ever come across in my career. They were deciding things that have the potential to decide the future of browsing for everyone in the near future. Each decision had to be weighed in terms of the effect it will have on an unclear future, and there were several points of contention. However the entire group was able to follow a process and eventually come to some form of consensus in the face of all that uncertainty and disagreement.

Even while not understanding everything they were discussing in detail, hearing how they weigh risks and benefits of possible decisions in that space revealed some approaches that I hope to apply to my own work in the future.

I can’t Imagine a more beautiful or exhausting drive than Highway 1 and 101 in Northern California.

I’ve driven all over the Southeast, and from Alabama to Washington before I ever took this drive. There is absolutely nothing like it. I saw massive cliffs going down to the sea with waves bigger than I had seen anywhere else crashing into them. Miles and Miles of dairy farms, orchards, and vineyards all overlooking the ocean on one side, and vast rolling hills on the other.

Then you start to meander away from the coast and end up in the Redwood forest. The trees are truly as majestic as they look in pictures. fallen tree trunks more than 10 feet tall. Everything covered in moss giving it this sort of surreal green glow.

And also this is a mostly narrow highway with no shoulder. you frequently run into sharp curves where the road was built around a tree rather than cutting the tree down. Everything is right there, as if you’re walking through the forest.

In addition to the beauty, it is also a pretty rough drive. The road is narrow and windey, you probably average 40-50 miles per hour for the drive, although there are a few straight stretches where you can speed up. There are also landslides frequently along the way. Luckily I only saw them after they had slid.

In summary

This trip was one of the most discovery-laden trips I’ve ever had. Every mile of road and every hour spent with the people I interacted with showed me something new. I wish every trip I took was this fulfilling.