I've marked off some of the major points of interest. I'll refer to them as they come up in the narrative.
Ok, so: day one, I landed in New Orleans and checked into the Hilton (the official hotel of the conference, marked on the map as point B). (If you weren't aware, I was going to the Red Hat Summit.) One thing I noticed about New Orleans, or at least "uptown" (I believe that's the neighborhood where the airport is near), is that it's full of bridges, hills, underpasses... I've never seen a city where so many roads cross over and under each other. The road out there is almost never flat, it's always curving up, stretching over one road, diving under another, elevated over a river or stream... it's interesting. We drove by Tchoupitoulas, which I have no idea how to pronounce, and finally arrived at the hotel. After checking in, I got settled in briefly and then headed down to the registration desk to get my conference materials and then went to the opening reception, which was a nice, quiet affair. There were a couple hundred people, maybe, and decent free food and free drink, which was nice. There wasn't much socialization going on, as everyone was new to each other and newly arrived, but I met a few people and also managed to meet up with spot, which was cool.
After the official activities, spot and Jack and Jeremy and I went out to dinner at Brennan's (map location H), which is ridiculously overpriced and overrated. It has a coveted "5 beans", which is the highest rating the Times Picayune gives out to restaurants, and it deserves almost none of them. My entree was $32 and was nothing but a piece of fish and some crab and shrimp, not particularly well prepared, and really bland. Boring. Ugh. The turtle soup I started off with was decent, but at $8 a bowl, it ought to be. We went back to the hotel after dinner and went back to our rooms to relax.
The second day started with breakfast. I think I got there around 7:30, ate, and then went to the opening keynotes, which were at 8:30. Matthew Szulik, president and CEO of Red Hat, started off with a decent speech and then brought out a choir and sang with them. (*shudder*) Still, it was an interesting way to start. Then some yutz from HP spoke, and finally the keynotes wrapped with a somewhat interesting speech by John Buckman, head of Magnatune. I attended conference sessions for the rest of the day, and finally at 7 went to the first real party, this one sponsored by HP.
HP had "Casino Night", where in addition to the now standard free food and booze, we were each given a chip worth "$1000" (fake money) and were allowed to gamble at the tables they had set up around. I lost a little at baccarat (which I discovered - as the dealer taught me how to play - that it is literally complete luck, you have no influence over the outcome at all), and then lost a little more at blackjack (around $400 after an hour, which isn't terrible), lost another $100 as some kid ran off with one of my $100 chips when I accidentally dropped it, and then in the last minutes made a major comeback by winning big at roulette, so I ended the night with $2800 (fake money), which I had to give back as they had run out of prizes. (Lame.) There were several ice sculptures there, including one of the Red Hat logo.
After Casino Night, spot and I walked around New Orleans for about an hour, finally returning to our rooms a little after midnight (I think) and crashing. Well, after checking email. ;)
The third day, having learned my lesson (at least a little), I went to breakfast at 8 instead of 7:30, allowing myself to sleep a little longer. After breakfast, there were more keynotes, including Michael Tiemann of Red Hat, Irving Wladawsky-Berger of IBM, and Greg Stein of Apache (who, in my opinion, probably could've won an award for worst style - long hair, button down shirt, khaki pants, and he, like, totally acted like he was stoned, dude). The day continued with another series of conference sessions, and then after that, Joanna arrived and we went to the next afterparty.
This one was the big one, hosted by IBM, who went out of their way to make the HP party look like crap. It was hosted at Generations Hall (location F on the map), and had all kinds of things going on. First off, if you look at the pictures of the hall, it's a pretty impressive space. Beyond that, though, they hired two bands (one zydeco, pretty good, one country/ bluegrass/ jazz that wasn't as good as I recall), a fire-spinner (and here and here and here), and a fire-eater (note: yes, that inline picture really IS a picture of Joanna lighting her cig off of his fire-breath... definitely a bit insane...), and had a huge amount of food (and drink, but the drinks were very watered down). The party was pretty fun, and the zydeco band was pretty good and I enjoyed listening to them, and the company was pleasant as well. After that, of course, we all (me and Joanna, spot, Jeremy and his girlfriend, and Jack) headed out to go to a bar.
Jeremy and Jack were dead set on going to Bourbon Street, so we went to Bourbon Street (highlighted in red on the map). What a miserable, miserable street. :P It, like Times Square, is fun and interesting in theory. In practice, though, it's basically a bunch of tourist-trap places, with lots and lots of stupid drunk people wandering between them and around them. Since New Orleans allows you to walk around with drinks in hand, people don't even have to stop in the bars to get drunk - they walk from bar to bar, buying a drink in each, and making it down the street. Some bars even had takeout windows (for booze), and there were a few places where the entire establishment consisted of a window through which people were selling drinks. A bit ghetto, if you ask me, and I really had no desire to be surrounded by a bunch of drunk tourists. Nevertheless, Jeremy did find a decent place, and we got some booze and listened to some surprisingly good jazz (considering the place was still a bit touristy if you ask me), and so that worked out in the end.
While out, we wandered into some stores, and Joanna tried on some masks. Jack tried on some wigs, and then the two of them posed together.
After the wigs and the bars and the like, we parted company and Jo and I went back to our room and unwound and crashed for the night.
And thus concludes part one. Part two, in which the conference ends and Joanna and I make our way out to experience New Orleans for real, will be posted in a day or two as I get time. If you can't wait, my New Orleans photoset is here:
Joanna's photos are here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jrrice/tags/neworleans/