Gargano'23: how not to give a talk

This may very well be one of the most hilarious entries in this diary—at least from the viewpoint of a “bystander”.

On April 18th, 2023 I was to give a talk at a high school in South Italy—and, specifically, in a small town within the Gargano sub-region. This event had been planned for around ~1 year, and I was to give this speech alongside my father. The goal was to raise awareness among teenagers about some privacy issues in today’s IT landscape. Around 100 students were to attend the event. I really cared about this. First, because it would have been the first time I gave a talk to such a young audience. Second, because I was to do this alongside my father.[a]I mean, come on: putting “professionalism” aside, from a “personal” perspective doing something like this would be extremely gratifying. Third, because the talk – if well done! – could have potentially driven “future generations” to pursue a path in cybersecurity. Hence, I was greatly looking forward to this opportunity.

The only “problem” was logistics. Reaching my destination from my house was… complex. Getting there by car was just silly, since it would have taken over 12h of driving. Flying there was not better: the nearest airport is Bari, which takes 4h to reach from ZRH (with one change in FCO); and even then, it would take ~3 more hours to reach the final destination (of course, one must also add the time required to reach ZRH, including buffer time for delays). Put simply, there was only one viable option: the train. With only two changes (one in Innsbruck, another in Bologna), I could reach the nearest train station in “just” 11h.[b]Of course, the overall time would be similar to driving, but at least I would be able to do “relax” a bit while on the wagon. But I was wrong. ☹ Unfortunately, April 2023 was a very “packed” month for me—from a traveling perspective: after having spent the Easter holidays in the USA, I was to go back to the USA (to attend CODASPY’23) on April 23rd. Given that I also had some business to take care of at UniLie, I only had three days available for this trip. The final plan was as follows: departure on April 17th, and return on April 19th. Specifically, my train was to leave Feldkirch at 7:30am and arrive in Bologna at around 2pm, where I would meet my father and get onto a train at 2:45pm that would reach the last train station at 7pm (my uncle would then give us a lift to the final destination); then, on the 18th, the talk was supposed to take place at around noon, and at 4pm I was to take another train that would bring me back to Modena, where I would spend the night; finally, on the 19th, I would have taken a train in the morning that, after two changes, would have brought me to Feldkirch at around 8pm.[c]Overall, it was around 24h of travel time (stretching over 2k km) in ~60hours.

The “issues” began on the night before the trip. On Sunday (Apr. 16th) I began receiving some emails from OBB, giving me some information on my trip. I was quite used to receiving these, typically informing me of some inconsequential details such as “you cannot use the underpass in this station”; this is why I overlooked the first ones. However, something made me open the “detailed information” of one of these—and, thankfully, I did so. Accordingly, due to some “work on the railway”, the train that would bring me from Feldkirch to Innsbruck at 7:30am was canceled, and the trip changed. The new route entailed a much more complex trip: I was to reach an intermediate station with a train that departed at 6:30am; then, I was to take a coach that would bring me to another station, from which I was going to take a yet-another train that would bring me to Innsbruck. Put simply, what was supposed to be an “easy” trip of ~2h became a 3h journey with 2 changes, during which I could hardly relax; furthermore, I had to wake up 1h earlier; to make things even worse, I did not know the area, so I had no idea whatsoever of where to get the coach, which one to take, and any further “movement” that I had to do to reach every stop—which further made the trip much more stressful.[d]On a positive note, there were plenty of OBB operators that gave me all the information I needed while on the way. Nevertheless, I eventually reached Bologna as planned—and, from there, I took the train with my father. We reached our final destination at 9pm: I had been up since 5am, and was really tired—but quite excited for the upcoming event. With a smile, I went to bed—unbeknownst that the following day would be bad.

I woke up sometime around 9am. The plan was that, at around 10am, my father and I had to go with my uncle to the school. After dressing up and getting a coffee, I went outside. My uncle was there, talking on the phone. I overheard some words such as “earthquake” and “school evacuation” and “lessons canceled”. I turned towards my father, and asked “Yo, what’s up? Is there anything wrong?”, to which he replied “I have no clue.” Perplexed, I said “Was there an earthquake? I felt nothing.”, “Neither did I,” he answered. Long story short: yes, there was indeed an earthquake: an “earthquake” having a magnitude of 2.8—the likes of which occur over 1 million times per year.[e]To give some context: I had lived in Modena for almost 30 years. During my life, I’d experienced many earthquakes—including the one in 2012 which had a magnitude of 6.1, which was over 1000 bigger than the 2.8 one that had just occurred. This is why I (and my father) felt nothing. As a result of this “shock”, the school was evacuated; and the event, and corresponding talk, canceled. Upon realizing this, I smiled[f]This is false. I sulked. again: I had just traveled all this way to… do nothing.[g]At least, I was able to savor some specialities of Puglia, such as Caciocavallo. We decided to spend our time taking a walk by the sea—which lasted only 5 minutes, since it soon began to rain cats and dogs. Then we left.

I do not know how to describe how I really felt. Yet, I do not think that “bad luck” is the correct term to define all that happened to me during April 17-18th, 2023. If you have any suggestions, please do share.[h]Of course, the return trip went perfectly. Not a single delay—even the rail-works between Innsbruck and Feldkirch were over.