Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

San Francisco diary – Day 7: 7 Feb 2014

Sunday, 30 March, 2014

20:42

The first day after the conference was a change for me. We allowed ourselves to sleep in a bit longer, getting up about 08:30. We had an appointment today at noon, so we had the morning to fill. The weather was again cold and drizzly, so we planned to go to the Jewish Museum to keep indoors. After breakfast we walked across to the laundry on Stockton St I’d spotted the other day and dropped off a bag of laundry for cleaning. The woman weighed it and said it would cost $15.

After returning to the hotel to get my camera bag, we walked down to Mission St, where we popped into a Starbucks to get some coffee for M. I sat watching the people walking through the rain outside, and noticed there was another Starbucks right across the road! We figured the museum would open at 10:00, so we timed our arrival for that. However, when we got there and tried pushing open the doors, we noticed a sign saying it opened at 11:00, and a security guard inside shook his head at us and gestured at the sign. We nodded our understanding and stalked off again into the rain.

We passed Yerba Buena Gardens across the street, which was less of a garden and more of a simple grassed park space. We went into the Target store above the Starbucks to kill some time, but it was kind of boring so we headed down to the cinemas and food court area on the ground floor. The doors there turned out to be locked too, but opened a minute later as the clock ticked over to 10:30. We sat and watched the rain outside for half an hour, M. trying the free WiFi as we sat.

At 11:00 we went back to the Jewish Museum, where a few other people were huddled under the doorway out of the rain, waiting for it to open. When we went in, the first thing was a security check, with a bag search and metal detector. Then we dropped our umbrellas, my camera bag, and my coat at the cloakroom and paid $12 each to enter the exhibits. We figured we could come back later in the day to finish the remainder of the museum after we had to leave at 12:00. But that turned out not to be necessary, as the museum was fairly small, holding only three exhibition spaces upstairs and one open space downstairs.

The upstairs ones were all displays of work by Jewish artists. One room was devoted to an audio display, with seats and headphones scattered around. It was a study of the relationship between Jewish and black musicians. There was a big poster of Ella Fitzgerald on a wall, but little else visual to look at. The next area was very good, with a display by the artist Arnold Lobel, who illustrated many classic American children’s books, such as the Frog and Toad series. A woman was leading a group of kindergarten kids through the exhibit, sitting them down and reading them some stories that Lobel illustrated. She was doing an excellent job of engaging the kids, asking them questions and getting them to interact and think about various aspects of the story and artwork. The final area upstairs was a display of works by Jason Lazarus, a modern Jewish artist, with various paintings, sculptures, and other works. One was a display of photos donated by museum visitors, being photos that they didn’t want to look at any more because it hurt them too much. They were almost all photos of people, just lining a wall, but knowing where they had come from made an impact.

Jason Lazarus at CJM
Art by Jason Lazarus at the Contemporary Jewish Museum.

Downstairs was a display about the history of kibbutzim, and here was a guide taking around a tour group, so we overheard a lot of what she said about them. Then we looked around the gift shop briefly, and it was then noon and time to head to the Cartoon Art Museum.

When we got there, there was a woman at the front desk looking helpful, and another woman looking busy. I said to the helpful looking one, “We’re here to see Shaenon,” and the other one raised her head and it was her! She had been busy drawing comics – it looked like an episode of Monster of the Week she was working on, but she hurriedly packed her paper and pens away and called on the phone to her husband Andrew to come down and meet us.

The four of us went out for lunch, braving the rain. They asked what we would like and we said just something simple like sandwiches or soup. They took us to a Boudin Bakery on Market St where we each had a sourdough bowl, mine and Andrew’s with chili, M.’s with butternut pumpkin (or “squash”) soup, and Shaenon with tomato soup. It was good having a warm lunch on such a drizzly day. We chatted about various stuff, a lot to do with the different experiences in the US and Australia.

After lunch, we went back to the museum, where Andrew took leave to return to work. Shaenon showed us around the museum, giving us a comprehensive guided tour and commentary on the various displays. They had a temporary exhibit on the work of Ronald Searle when he was in America. I knew his artwork from the St Trinians and other British stuff he did, but never realised he did work in the US as well. The next section was a huge display of original art from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics, by the dozens of artists who contributed to that work. Most of it was inked comic page art, but there were a few pencil only pages towards the end, after digital production had developed enough to be able to produce a page from a pencil drawing. There were also some colour paintings of covers and scenes, including one which had been loaned to the exhibit by Gaiman himself. Shaenon said it normally hung in Gaiman’s living room!

The next area contained original artwork selections from the permanent collection, which spanned the gamut from the Yellow Boy through old comics like Krazy Kat, Little Orphan Annie, Dick Tracy, Blondie, to more modern ones, Peanuts, Garfield, and so on. The variety was much greater than that, and all very cool. It was though almost exclusively American, and I asked Shaenon if they had much foreign stuff. She said alas no, they really should try to get more European and Japanese comics, and she asked me about Australian and New Zealand comics.

The last section of the displays was devoted to art from Sam and Max, with art going back to the mid-80s, which is longer back than I had expected. The tour done, Shaenon have me her original art from the two Monster of the Week strips that I’d bought from her. Then she said goodbye and vanished into the back of the museum as she had another friend to call and arrange to meet that afternoon. We browsed the museum shop briefly, then ventured out into the rain again.

On the way back, we stopped in at the Levi’s store to try on some more things for me. I tried another sale shirt, which they now had in what should have been my size, but it didn’t really fit properly. Then I tried some jeans… which took ages as it was hard to find a good size and fit that I liked. I seemed to be halfway sized between 34 and 36, but they only had limited 35s. I tried a bunch of 36 in different styles, but none were pleasing enough to get. Then they found me a 35 in black, which felt the best of anything, so we bought it. They didn’t take the Levi’s discount coupon from the back of a tourist guide we found, because that was actually printed by a different company who just stocked Levi’s jeans, not the actual Levi’s store themselves. Anyway, it was still cheaper than at home.

We went back to the hotel and dropped off my camera bag, then at 17:30 went out to pick up our laundry. On the way back we stopped briefly in Kar’ikter, a shop full of books and knick knacks related mainly to Tintin comics, but also some Asterix and a few others. After getting back to the hotel we thought about dinner. M. suggested Indian food, so I searched and found several Indian places. The nearest one was also the highest rated in a restaurant review site, so we decided to go there: Amber Indian Restaurant in Yerba Buena Place.

Achari duck
Achari duck at Amber Indian Restaurant.

We headed over there and found it to be fairly fancy looking. We got a table and the interior was a lot larger than it looked from outside. The menu had some familiar dishes but also some really unusual ones. I chose the achari duck, while M. picked tofu and vegetable koftas. We also had samosas to start, some rice, and a pesto naan. The food was really good, with the duck dish being outstanding, coming with a delicious spicy sauce and a mound of spinach mixed with some grain like couscous or semolina which had a very interesting and nice texture. M.’s koftas came with a spicy nutty sauce and were also great. It was also very filling, so I didn’t even dare a look at desserts.

On the way home, we stopped in at Westfield so M. could try out some raincoats she’d seen the other day in one of the shops there. She tried a beige one which looked good, and after long deliberation decided to buy it. Just as we were about to pay, the woman at the counter came out and said, “Did you see these also come in other colours back here?” and led us to a different display we hadn’t even looked at! They also had salmon pink, dark purple, and black ones. But M. decided the beige was best and we bought that.

We returned to our room fairly early, hoping to get a slightly earlier night tonight!

San Francisco diary – Day 6: 6 Feb 2014

Sunday, 30 March, 2014

22:01

After the usual routine this morning I left for the conference in time to arrive for the 08:30 Human Vision keynote talk, by Ed Chi of Google. He talked about scientific analysis of social networks and how they grow, giving case study examples of Wikipedia, Twitter, and Google+. The next session had talks about how visual quality as perceived by humans isn’t necessarily dictated purely by visual artefacts, but also by image subject matter, context, and surrounding context such as who looks at the image with you.

During the shortened tea break (due to talks going over time), I went out to eat an apple quickly, and bumped into Kristyn, who I’d met at this conference three years ago, and who M. and I visited at her home in Paris on our trip there in 2012. I had no idea she’d be here, so it’s lucky we happened to meet. She suggested we have lunch, and I said that M. was here, and I was meeting her at 12:15, so we arranged to meet again in the Hilton lobby at 12:10 to walk over and meet M.

The next session of vision talks again ran well over time, and I actually had to skip the entire last talk to make the meeting time. Kristyn had two colleagues with her, Albrecht and Alastair, and they were planning to walk over to the Moscone Centre to see the Photonics West exhibition there this afternoon, before flying out this evening. We walked over to Westfield where we’d be meeting M. outside the Rolex shop. We had a bit of trouble finding it, but eventually did, and met M. there.

We walked out and down Fifth St a short way, stopping in at a cafe for lunch. I had a Reuben sandwich on sourdough bread, which came with a choice of stuff, of which I chose the fruit salad. M. had a wheat bagel with cream cheese. We ate and chatted, swapping tales of work-related technical stuff, and food, and travel. Kristyn it turned out had moved back to Portland in Oregon. She recommended a restaurant called Greens up on the north side of San Francisco, as it was vegetarian, for M. We’ve checked out their website and it looks good indeed, so we may head out there one evening before we go home.

We said goodbye as we left the cafe, as we were heading different directions. M. and I went back into Westfield and went up into Nordstroms to have a look around. It was four floors, almost all of women’s fashion stuff, with a little bit of men’s clothing. That done, we headed back down and parted out on Market St, M. heading back to Union Square and me to the Hilton for the last afternoon of the conference.

There were more interesting human vision talks, including the fun last session on art stuff, followed by a discussion session in which they brought out free beers and pretzels, and opened up for questions and comments to any of the day’s presenters. I joined in with some comments about the growth of Wikipedia to Ed Chi. There was some later lively discussion about video quality, with the movie making guy from yesterday adamant that 4k video was a waste of bandwidth, since the human eye can’t tell any difference whatsoever from 2k, and that 4k uses up so much more data that they have to compress it to the point where it actually looks worse than 2k.

At the end of the conference, I went back to our hotel, where M. arrived a few minutes later. She had been to a tailor to get the button on her coat fixed before it fell off. She found one using Google, and it was on the fifth floor of a building on Geary St. When she got there, it looked like an office building and the tailor was behind a closed wooden door. She opened it tentatively and found the office full of tailors working on various clothes. The woman in charge asked what M. wanted, and she said she just wanted a button sewn on. The woman took the coat and gave it to a tailor, who fixed it in a few minutes. When M. asked how much it cost, the woman told her it was free!

Powell Street BART
Heading to the Mission on BART.

We decided to go to the Mission district for dinner. We caught BART down to 24th Street, and then walked the block to the Velvet Cantina where I’d had dinner last year with Mary and Casey and Lisa and Martin. I got shrimp enchiladas, while M. got a vegetable burrito. The burrito was enormous, but full of good veges that M. liked. We also had margaritas. We didn’t need to consider appetisers since they gave us chips and salsa, and I didn’t even want to think about dessert after the last two nights. The total price was very cheap considering we had drinks, and the food was really good.

Dinner at the Velvet Cantina
Dinner at the Velvet Cantina.

We walked another block up Mission Street to see the sights a bit before turning around and heading back to the BART station and riding back to Powell Street. We walked over to Mason Street and up the steep hill to the Fairmont Hotel, where we booked dinner at the Tonga Room for Wednesday night, the last night before we fly home. The concierge there suggested if we had two mai tais there they would have to drag us out! The Fairmont is an incredibly swish looking hotel. It looked like the entire foyer was made of polished marble.

We walked back down the hill along Powell Street and to our hotel, getting some more milk for breakfast at the Walgreens on the way.

San Francisco diary – Day 5: 5 Feb 2014

Saturday, 29 March, 2014

22:54

The morning ritual was as usual, and I left at 08:15 to get to the first conference talk at 8:30, which was a plenary session about “integrated imaging”, or designing camera hardware and image processing algorithms jointly, instead of optimising each separately. There were also the best paper awards handed out during this session.

M., on the other hand, spent the day by getting a 38 bus followed by a 44 to Golden Gate Park. She visited the California Academy of Sciences and the Japanese garden there while I was at the conference, and had a fun day.

For lunch today I walked over to Chinatown and a picked a small restaurant called Snow Garden. I had kung pao prawns and rice, and an Asahi beer. The meal was delicious. On the way back I decided to walk up the hill to the top of Stockton Street, and climbed the steps to get above the Stockton Street tunnel, from where there were interesting views along the streets leading down the hill. Heading back to the Hilton, I passed a dry cleaner, and popped in to ask if they also did bag laundry washes. The woman said yes, and quoted a cost per pound, which I promptly forgot. The laundry was just a block from our hotel, so will be convenient for when we need to wash our clothes, probably on Friday or Saturday.

The afternoon sessions of the conference were interesting, with one on HDR imaging which was very good. The last talk ended at 17:20, and then I came back to the hotel where M. was waiting. A bit later we went out for dinner, deciding to walk up to Fisherman’s Wharf for seafood. When we got outside, it was sprinkling so we dashed back inside to get our umbrellas. The walk through the light rain was nice, with the streets slick and reflective by the time we got to the wharf.

To pick a restaurant from the row of seafood places there, I looked at the signs above them, ignoring the gaudy new neon and choosing the oldest looking painted sign, which belonged to Nick’s Lighthouse. A guy ushered us in and we got a table in one of the booths of which the seating was entirely comprised. Almost all the others were also full already.

M. ordered a broiled salmon, which came with veges and rice, and a choice of clam chowder, lobster bisque, or salad with prawns. She got a salad without the prawns, and then had a choice of dressings and I picked a blue cheese for her. It came on the side, so she could choose to use some or not, and ended up having most of it. I ordered a whole cracked Dungeness crab, and chose the chowder with it. We also got sourdough bread, which was warm and delicious. The crab was large and came with a metal cracker and bowl for the shell pieces. It was a bit awkward extracting the meat at first, but I got used to it. And it was delicious. I also had a glass of Riesling to go with it, which was very sweet for a Riesling, but which matched the sweetness of the crab nicely.

We thought about dessert, but the waiter said they only had three choices: chocolate cake, cheesecake, or tiramisu. When we looked dubious, he asked what I liked. M. said “ice cream”, and he said to go across the street and find the gelato place. Or go to North Beach and find Stella’s for Italian baked sweets. We’d seen a bakery there on Columbus Avenue on the way, with lots of pastries in the window, and M. asked if that was the one. The waiter said no, don’t go there, it looks good but looks are deceiving. Stella’s is on the other side of Columbus, right opposite, and is much better! Or, he said, go to Ghirardelli Square and get a sundae.

Chocolate in the rain
Ghirardelli Square in the rain.

We left the restaurant and walked west towards the Hyde Street cablecar terminus to get a cablecar back to our hotel. It was just a block from Ghirardelli Square, so we walked the extra block to have a look… Then when we got there the chocolate shop was warm and inviting as we approached in the rain. We could smell the chocolate oozing out into the night. We went in and decided to get hot chocolates. But then I looked at the menu and saw a Black Forest sundae…

It was cherry ice cream with chocolate fudge sauce and whipped cream, and also delicious. M. settled for a “small” hot chocolate, which came in a tall mug that would have been called an extra large anywhere else. In the dining room there they have a display showing chocolate being made, mixed, and conched in huge copper vats. Enormous amounts of rich molten chocolate being stirred and releasing its aroma into the room.

Muir Woods Sundae
Muir Woods black forest sundae at Ghirardelli Square.

After loading up on chocolate, we walked back through the rain to the cablecar terminus and got on a waiting cablecar, sitting on the outside front seats. There were only five other passengers on it. It left a minute later for the trip up the steep hills and eventually down towards Union Square. We got off at a stop right near our hotel and went in for the night.

It was a very touristy day, but a lot of fun!

San Francisco diary – Day 4: 4 Feb 2014

Saturday, 29 March, 2014

20:52

We are relaxing for the evening after an early dinner tonight.

We got up again at 07:30, and I got ready to go to the conference. I had slept better, but not great, and was tired. I also wanted to go over my conference talk, which I was due to give at 11:20 this morning. So I skipped the first session of the conference, which was a conference-wide plenary talk on functional MRI and the human vision system. Instead I sat in a rest area near the conference rooms and went over my talk, then had an apple before going in for my session.

There were three talks before mine and two after. M. wanted to see me give my talk, so she popped in at about 11:15 and stood near the back. There were about 100 people in the audience, with several standing at the back. My talk began on time and went reasonably well, but I left only a short time at the end for a couple of questions. They were straightforward, and then I sat down and watched the next two talks. M. left for the hotel lobby to read a bit, where I met her after the session finished and I had a short chat with some people who were interested in my talk.

We walked towards the Alexander Book Company store on 2nd St, stopping for lunch along the way at a Boudin’s Bakery. M. asked if they could do a grilled cheese sandwich, and the woman said no, but the Boudin’s in the basement of Macy’s would do that, and it was right next door! So we went in there and sat down for lunch. M. had the “great grilled” sandwich on sourdough, while I had a chicken and pesto sandwich on a baguette. They both came with salads.

M. said that in the morning she explored Niemann Marcus, which was filled with designer fashions and was very upmarket. The staff were friendly but very prim and proper. They even had a fur room! That was all she had time for before coming to see my talk.

Johnny Foley's irish House
Irish pub near the Hilton Hotel conference venue.

After lunch we walked to Alexander Books, where I left M. as I had to get back for the afternoon conference session. The talks were about the digital camera image processing pipeline and also an interesting talk about a new type of sensor chip design being developed in Italy, where each pixel is sensitive to different coloured light depending on the bias voltage. This was theoretical models in 2011 when I first attended this conference, but now they have fabricated a prototype chip to show that it works and measured various properties of it.

After the tea break was a panel discussion on the question of “What’s necessary to make mobile cameras the only cameras we use?” There were four panellists. The first was David Cardinal, a professional photographer who showed some of his shots and said you simply couldn’t do them with a phone camera with current technology – you need longer lenses, faster shutter speeds, better autofocus, better response times, better low light performance. That’s what is needed, he concluded. Another panellist said that the question was already moot, phone cameras already are the only cameras 99% of people use! It was a lively discussion and there were a lot of interesting points made. Sabine Süsstrunk said the frustrating thing about phone cameras – and here she showed pictures of an Apple, Nokia, and Samsung – was that the camera lens was smaller than the logo! She said they should cover the entire back of the phone with lenses and flashes, which would give you decent light collecting power and light projecting power, which you could then combine computationally to get a much better image than current phones. The basic message everyone agreed on is that you simply have to increase the photon collecting area before phones can really compete with SLR image quality. One of the panellists said that despite this, 99% of people are happy with camera phones, because they (a) don’t want to lug around a separate camera and (b) they really don’t care that much about image quality. He said t he thing that will save SLRs is having apps on them. If you open them up to third party app developers, people will go nuts with the things they can do with a high quality camera that you can’t do with a phone. But Nikon and Canon are too closed shop to do this. Some other manufacturer will do it first, and that will be the end of Nikon and Canon, because the market won’t support that many manufacturers.

At the end of this discussion, they held a lucky draw for people who had put their business cards into a bowl during the talks. They drew out a few people to win Amazon gift vouchers. Francisco got the first one, and I also won one! Then I headed back over to our hotel to meet M. in our room. She had used the afternoon to check out Barney’s, where she said the staff were snobby, and a shoe warehouse place, and to pick up the Giants T-shirt we’d ordered in at the fan store the other day.

We went out for dinner a bit after 18:00, walking over to Grant Ave and the Japanese restaurant we’d seen there called Mikaku. We both ordered bento box dinners, M.’s with sweet potato maki roll, fried veges and tofu, and tempura veges, mine with mixed nigiri, tempura prawns and veges, and teriyaki beef. We also has vegetable gyoza for a starter. It was okay, with the beef descending to gristly – I should have ordered the chicken or salmon option instead. We finished dinner early and headed back via Walgreens to get some more Grape Nuts, as well as a tub of Ben & Jerry’s

Cherry Garcia for my dessert. Yum!

Then it was back for an early night in to rest, type up this diary, shower, and read before bed.

San Francisco diary – Day 3: 3 Feb 2014

Friday, 28 March, 2014

(written a day later)

On Monday morning we woke at 7:30 again, although I didn’t get very much sleep. We had cereal and milk for breakfast in the hotel room. I left to get to the Hilton by 8:50 for the first talk in my conference track, while M. stayed in the room a bit longer before venturing out to check out Macy’s, which wouldn’t open until 10:00. She actually went out earlier to get some coffee from one of the many Starbucks scattered around the streets.

The digital photography conference track started with a mix of papers on hardware and algorithms for various things, in particular some focused on mobile imaging (i.e. with a phone), and there were papers on image quality measurement, glass and polymer microlens designs, and other things. I had an apple from the hotel lobby fruit bowl during the morning tea break, then went out at lunch to meet M. at the front of the Macy’s building on Union Square.

We walked down Market St to a Noah’s Bagels place like the one we went to yesterday, and had some bagels again for lunch. This time M. had a nine grain bagel with cream cheese, and then picked a potato and peppercorn bagel to try, curious about the potato, but not realising the peppercorns would make it very spicy. I had smoked salmon, cream cheese, and salad on my poppy seed bagel, which came with potato salad again.

Cable Car
Cablecar on Powell Street.

Done with lunch, I still had an hour to kill before the afternoon conference session, so we popped in at Jeffrey’s Toys and Comics to look around. It was mostly children’s toys, with a small comic section and a small section of more advanced games. They had Magic the Gathering cards, but only single booster packs. I asked if they knew where I could get boxes, and the guy didn’t really seem to know, pointing me at Walgreens or Target.

I left M. at Macy’s again and went back to the conference for the afternoon session. After the tea break, I switched conference tracks since the digital photography track wasn’t so interesting, and went to the human vision track, where they had talks about the interaction of sound and vision in 3D cinema, a statistical analysis of how movie genre affects the perception of the balance between audio and video quality, and a talk by Harry Mathias, a movie maker who was nominated for an Academy Award in the 1980s, talking about modern digital technology and why almost none of it was of any use to “real” movie makers. He came across as a bit of an old fogey who hated newfangled stuff, but he made some interesting and valid points about the intersections of artistic vision and technical requirements.

At the end of the talks, I went to the Hilton lobby, where M. was, and we went together into the conference 3D cinema event, which was two hours of 3D shorts from around the world. We only stayed for the first hour, before leaving to go to La Fusion restaurant for the arranged dinner with several other people from Canon. We got the wrong street and found the restaurant a few minutes late, when most of the others were already there. There was Geoff and Quan from Sydney, Francisco (with his wife and young daughter), Su-Kei, and Sandra from Canon USA, a Japanese guy who had been with them for six months and his wife Keiko, and a few other people from Canon Japan who I didn’t know.

The food was Peruvian fusion stuff, and very good. It started with two different ceviches, a prawn one and a fish one, and a rocket and beetroot salad. Then came empanadas: beef, fish, and corn and cheese. And for the mains were a fish pot pie (deconstructed onto a plate for sharing), rotisserie chicken (deliciously moist) with a bread salad, and lomo soltado. They made M. a special vegetarian pie with spinach and mushrooms. It was all delicious. Then we had a three layer chocolate mousse cake for dessert, which was presented to Francisco for his birthday, with candles on. Apparently Sandra had bought it earlier and brought it along.

We left the restaurant just before 22:30 and walked back to our hotel, where we showered and read for a bit before going to sleep.

San Francisco diary – Day 2: 2 Feb 2014

Thursday, 27 March, 2014

21:11

The alarm woke us this morning at 07:30. M. slept well, but I had a very restless night. Nevertheless, we ate some Grape Nuts for breakfast and then rugged up for a bleak and wet day outside. It was cold and grey and rainy, so we put on all our layers. Despite this, it was very chilly and miserably damp as we walked down to Market St and then the Ferry Building to get a Blue Bottle coffee for M. The wind howled through the streets and made it very uncomfortable, but thankfully the rain was not too heavy.

At the Ferry Building we sheltered inside for a while as M. drank her morning coffee. She also got me a hot chocolate, which was nice and warming. We sat looking through the windows out to a windswept bay, with whitecaps spraying foam in the middle distance. I’ve never seen it look so miserable out there. We also saw some enormous seagulls, at least twice as big as the ones back home. After finishing our drinks we browsed in the book shop there for a few minutes before leaving.

We’d originally planned to take a ferry to Sausalito today, but the weather made us switch to an indoor plan, and we walked up the Embarcadero to the new Exploratorium at Pier 15. We got there just before opening time at 10:00, hoping to get in out of the rain quickly. But when we arrived, we were stunned to see a queue of people about 60 or 70 metres long snaking out across the exposed waterfront to the adjacent pier, then out along that pier a distance. We hurried out to the end of the queue, which was thankfully in the shelter of an overhanging roof, so we could close our umbrellas. But we didn’t relish the thought of the queue advancing slowly, leaving us in the exposed section for several minutes.

Queuing in the rain
The queue to get into the Exploratorium. The queue runs right across the middle of the photo (all the people with umbrellas), then towards the camera.

At 10:00 the doors opened and the queue moved into the museum fairly quickly. We advanced in steps to the end of the covered area and braced ourselves for the crossing of the unsheltered part. But we were fortunate as the queue moved very quickly after that. We almost didn’t stop in the open, moving quickly into the building and thankfully putting down our umbrellas again. Inside the building the queue was still about 20 metres to the ticket sale counters, but this moved fairly rapidly too. We only discovered the reason when we went to pay and the guy at the counter just gave us two tickets and said it was free entry today!

We dropped our outer layers and umbrellas in a locker then went inside to explore. The place was already busy with people, with lots of kids running around and trying all of the interactive exhibits. It was a little tricky getting a go at some of them, but with a little patience we managed to have a look at most things. Highlights included a giant virtual image mirror, which made it look as though you could touch a copy of yourself floating upside down, projected a few metres in front of the mirror. This was very popular, with several people constantly standing in front of it and gawking. There were also numerous other optical devices and illusions, perceptual illusions, magnetic and electric demos, fluid dynamics, chaotic pendulums, things that made noise or played with your hearing, and a section full of biological displays including lots of microscopes aimed at interesting micro-organisms or cells or other things. There was so much to see and do that even with hundreds of other people crowding the place we could always find an unattended exhibit to play with, or one we could have a go at with just a short wait. I think we managed to try more than half of them – trying them all would require a full day and some very good luck with some of the most popular ones.

Eye dissection
Exploratorium staff dissect a cow’s eyeball in front of curious kids.

As it was, we didn’t notice the time passing until it was almost 14:00, at which point we suddenly got hungry for our overdue lunch. We quickly walked past a section or two of exhibits we hadn’t seen yet, stopping at a few to try them out along the way. Then we looked in the museum shop quickly, and by about 14:30 we headed out and back down towards the Ferry Building, where we turned on to Market St and the Noah’s New York Bagels place we’d seen earlier, to get some lunch. Fortunately the rain had stopped by now and the cloud was breaking up a little, but it was still chilly and a little windy.

M. had a pumpernickel bagel with cream cheese and a blueberry bagel, while I had a pumpernickel bagel sandwich with pastrami, salad, and mustard. It was good and satisfying after the long time since breakfast. Then we walked back down Market St again and past Union Square and Macy’s to find the Hilton Hotel, where the conference will be this week. On the way we stopped in at the San Francisco Giants Dugout merchandise shop on Geary St, where M. bought a long sleeved Giants T-shirt. There was also one I wanted, but they didn’t have my size, so the guy phoned the baseball park store and is getting one sent over, which we can pick up on Tuesday afternoon.

Heading from there to the Hilton we got a bit confused until we finally located it, then got turned around inside the maze inside as I sought the conference rooms to find the registration desk. Having received my registration package, we left again and returned to our hotel. We rested for a while until it was time to go out for dinner.

We decided to try Italian tonight, and walked through Chinatown to North Beach. We found a place called Calzone’s on Columbus Avenue, which had been packed yesterday as we walked past and which M. liked the look of. We got a table inside, at a booth, and ordered some garlic bread and a calzone each, Mediterranean for M., which had eggplant, spinach, and cheese, while I had a Philly cheesesteak one. We also got a glass of wine each, Chianti for M. and a Zinfandel for me. The food was reasonably good, but the decor was very cool, with lots of bottles and strings of garlic hanging up everywhere over red painted walls. They had a liquorice cheesecake for dessert, which I had to try, and that was very good, with a strong liquorice flavour. It came with a minted mascarpone cream, which added a good element, and dripped with raspberry sauce, which was a bit discordant. But overall a good meal.

Calzones at Calzone's Liquorice cheesecake
Calzones and liquorice cheesecake at Calzone’s, North Beach.

We walked back with a very light sprinkle of rain which eased off quickly. The Golden Gate Bakery in Chinatown which we’d passed yesterday with a queue of about forty people outside it was still open, and had no queue, although there were three or four customers inside. Seeing how popular this place was, I decided I had to try a moon cake from there for the recent Chinese New Year. I got a lotus seed cake, which I will probably eat tomorrow.

Back at the hotel we showered and then turned in for the night. I need to be bright and early tomorrow for the start of the conference!

San Francisco diary – Day 1: 1 Feb 2014

Wednesday, 26 March, 2014

01:15. (San Francisco time)

We are on board flight UA870 from Sydney to San Francisco. We left on time at 16:20 on Saturday, and it’s now a few hours into the flight, but at our destination it has just passed midnight on the same day. We are scheduled to arrive at 10:30 in the morning.

It’s been a fairly eventless day so far. We got up, finished packing, then took a taxi to the airport around 13:00. Check in was quick, and we’d paid in advance for exit row seats for the extra leg room, which is serving us well right now as we relax into the long haul. Through customs and into the departure lounge we headed first to the Chinese restaurant where we had some steamed buns and dumplings for lunch. Then we browsed the shops a bit, buying an eye mask for M. and a toothbrush for me (that’s the item I accidentally left behind this time).

We saw Quan from my work briefly near the gate, and arranged to meet at the baggage claim at San Francisco airport so we can catch BART together to our hotel. We boarded the plane and settled into our seats. They started showing the first movie almost immediately. M.’s vege meal came early and she said it was good – rice with a spicy lentil dhal. I had a choice of chicken or pasta with “red sauce”. I chose the chicken, which had a teriyaki style sauce with rice and vegetables. It was okay.

After the meal service had cleaned up, a group of three fairly loud Americans came and stood in the area in front of our seats, nursing drinks and obviously settling in for a long flight of consuming alcohol. One older woman was carrying a little bottle of scotch or something, and they were all swapping stories about how drunk they’d got on other flights or something. Thankfully after a while a flight attendant came and told them to go back to their seats.

10:22

We’re sitting on the tarmac at San Francisco airport,waiting for a gate to become vacant. We arrived 20 minutes early and should still be at the gate early. The sun is shining brightly and it looks like a beautiful day outside.

The flight passed with only a bit of turbulence to break it up. Breakfast was an egg dish with corn kernels in it, or a plate of fruit.

18:20

Chancellor view with fire escape
View from the Chancellor Hotel towards Union Square.

We are resting for a little after returning to our hotel and having a shower after a full afternoon out and about.

The plane eventually made it into the gate and we disembarked, then walked the long corridor to the customs hall. The queues were not long and we passed through fairly quickly, then waited a few minutes to gather our bags. We had them before we spotted Quan arriving a few minutes later. He grabbed his bag quickly too and then we walked out to the arrivals area and to the BART station to catch a train into the centre of the city. There was a train waiting there as we arrived, but we weren’t fast enough buying tickets to get on. Thankfully the next train was only a six minute wait and we piled on and grabbed seats.

We chatted a bit about the conference and our previous visits to San Francisco with Quan as the train took us to Powell St, where we got off. Quan had a reservation at the Hilton, where the conference is, while we are staying in the Chancellor Hotel, a couple of blocks away. We separated and went to our hotels.

We checked into a room on the fifth floor, looking out on to Powell St. We simply dropped our things, washed our faces, and then headed out for a brisk walk to keep ourselves awake. We left the hotel about 12:30 and headed over to Grant Avenue and walked north through Chinatown and North Beach towards Fisherman’s Wharf. It took us about an hour to get there, then we looked around the seafood eateries there and strolled along the Embarcadero towards Pier 39.

The first stop there was the Boudin Bakery for some late lunch. We had the soup in sourdough bowls: M. having the tomato while I had the clam chowder. As usual, the first meal off the plane was delicious.

21:20

We are back at the hotel after dinner and going to retire for the night soon.

Earlier, after lunch we browsed the shops at Pier 39, checking out the various touristy goodness, including such marvels as Magnetron (a fridge magnet shop), a couple of chocolate and taffy shops, and the San Francisco 49ers sports gear shop (which also had Giants stuff and lots of other teams too). In the shop signing autographs was the retired 49ers player Bubba Paris, though we didn’t get anything signed.

Then we hopped on a streetcar to take us down the Embarcadero to the Ferry Building. The open air craft market on Market St was still open with a couple of dozen stalls showing off various wares, so we had a look at that. M. bought a cool floppy hat from a woman with a stall full of hand crafted hats. We looked for the fridge magnet woman who sold me the broccoli magnet three years ago, but she wasn’t there.

After that we crossed the road to go into the Ferry Building, where M. had a coffee from Peet’s. Next we explored the various cool food shops in the building, spotting a funky looking wine bar which we might try for a lunch snack one day.

It was about 17:00 by this time and the sun was setting, so we walked up Market St back to our hotel, where we showered and changed to freshen up. About 18:30 we left to find dinner. I mentioned the Thai place I’d been to three years ago, and M. said she felt like Thai food. So I found the name and address: King of Thai Noodle House on O’Farrell St, just a short walk from our hotel. On the way out of the hotel we asked the receptionist about nearby supermarkets, and she said there was a Walgreens two blocks down on Powell St, also right near the Thai place.

So we walked down, located the Walgreens, then went into the Noodle House. There was a queue of people waiting for a table, but the first group quickly got a table and then the group in front of us was three people but the next table they had was for two, so we got in next. Our table was upstairs, in a room painted entirely purple. M. ordered a vegetarian rice dish, pad gra praw, while I got the deep fried salmon with red curry that I’d enjoyed so much last time I was there. We also got a serve of vegetable egg rolls for a starter. The food was awesomely good, and very satisfying after a long, tiring day.

Deep fried salmon curry
Deep fried salmon curry from King of Thai Noodle House.

On the way back, M. was keen to take a look at the Levi’s store on Market St, so we walked around the block past that. We went in since it was still open, and they were having a huge sale. M. bought a pair of jeans for $30 and I got a shirt for $20. We were in different change rooms at the same time and when I came out with the shirt on I had no idea where M. was. A lady on the staff asked if I needed help and I said, “I don’t know where my wife is… She’s in one of these rooms.” She asked me her name, and I told her, and she started calling out! M. responded, so then we had it sorted.

After Levi’s, we went into another Walgreens next door, different to the one we’d located before dinner. We bought some Grape Nuts and milk for breakfast in our hotel room, and some of the Old Spice deodorants for Andrew, who wanted some of the fragrances not available in Australia. Then we came back to our hotel, took care of some catching up on the Internet, and turned in for the night. We have an alarm set to wake us up at 07:30, if we’re not awake by then.

North Sydney walking project

Sunday, 1 December, 2013

North Sydney walksI mentioned in this post back in June that my wife and I were doing a walking project: walking the full length of every street and walking path in the North Sydney council area. The area is roughly 4km by 4km, so that’s a fair bit of walking. Every trip has to start and end at our home as well – no driving to and from places on the other side of the area to walk there.

We started this project in (I think) March of 2011. I thought at the time we might be able to finish it within a year. But it turned out to take more than two and a half years.

Today we finished the last few streets remaining. Whew! This map shows everywhere we have walked, marked in orange. (I may have missed a few small details – it was very fiddly marking these off in Photoshop.)

It feels good to complete such an ambitious and long-running project. We’ve thought about starting a new one… walking every street and path in the Sydney City council area. For that one we’ll probably have to allow ourselves to catch a train or bus to and from the walking locations.

San Francisco 2013 diary: Day 6

Friday, 28 June, 2013

The last day of this trip!

Friday, 8 February, 2013. 09:54. BART train to San Francisco

I got up just after 08:00 this morning and packed my bags for departure. There was an itemised hotel bill slipped under the door. I noticed that in addition to the $18 breakfast I had on my first morning here, there was also an extra $37 breakfast charge in the same day! I pointed this out at reception when I checked out and they deducted the “second breakfast” charge. Then I left my large bag and poster tube with the baggage guy to pick up this evening before heading to the airport and walked out into the brisk morning air.

It was really cold and a bit windy. The sky looked sunny ahead, but when I turned around, I saw the entire sky behind me was covered in angry grey storm clouds. I quickened my pace, hoping to make it to Millbrae before it began raining. The clouds threatened and I thought they were gaining on me, but by the time I got near Millbrae station, it was clear they wouldn’t burst quite yet. So I stopped quickly into the Panera Bakery near the station and got a whole grain bagel with cream cheese “to go”. I took my paper bag outside and opened it, expecting to find it ready to eat, but it was a sliced bagel, a plastic knife, and a peel-back container of cream cheese. So I stopped on a seat outside to spread the cheese on the bagel, discard the waste, and then walked to the station, munching the bagel on the way.

At the station I bought a ticket. At the ticket machine next to me were a middle aged couple and an older woman (probably one of their mothers) and they were puzzling over the ticket machine. The asked me for help in buying tickets, and I told them as much as I knew, including that they needed a separate ticket for each person, which was news to them so it was lucky I told them.

16:45. Glen Park BART Station

I got off the train this morning here at Glen Park Station, then went outside to catch a number 44 bus to Golden Gate Park. I didn’t need to wait very long, and the bus took a winding route north, skirting the west side of Twin Peaks, until it reached the park. There I got off in front of the Academy of Sciences, but before going in I decided to walk across the open area in front and check out the Japanese Tea Garden. This cost $7 to enter, and at first I thought it was very small for the price. But walking around I realised that there was a lot more hidden behind the trees and small hills, making it quite expansive. The gardens were beautifully maintained and the water in the ponds was crystal clear, giving an excellent view of the koi in there. There was a small school group and a few other people around, but not too many, so it was fairly tranquil.

American Coot
American coot, Stow Lake, Golden Gate Park.

After exiting the gardens, I walked down the road past the botanical gardens to Stow Lake. I was surprised to find that the lake was actually uphill, the water level being higher than the main road that ran past it. The lake was beautiful, with lots of gulls, mallards, and grebes swimming around on the water. Quite a few people were taking advantage of the brightening weather to have picnics or just sit by the lake and admire the scenery.
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San Francisco 2013 diary: Day 5

Thursday, 27 June, 2013

Thursday 7 February, 2013. 15:22

I am having a short mid-afternoon break before a final round of talks to finish off the conference in a little while. I snoozed in a bit this morning, getting up in time to have breakfast before a talk beginning at 09:45, about search engine user interfaces, particularly for image searching. Then I went to a bunch of talks about 3D depth acquisition and correction of noisy data, which took the time up to lunch.

M. and I tried FaceTime again, getting a rather choppy video and audio connection, but enough to have a bit of a chat. Then I went out for a walk to Burlingame again to get some lunch. I’m glad I wore my coat today, as it was really chilly when the scattered cloud obscured the sun. It rained overnight and was still sprinkling this morning, but it seems to have cleared up now and the sun is shining.

I tried a new place today for lunch, the Royal Donut Cafe, which was a classic style American diner. I ordered a Reuben with onion rings. I lifted the sandwich with my hands and tried to take a bite, but the corned beef was so tough I couldn’t bite through it! I ate the rest with knife and fork, slicing the tough meat into bite sized pieces. I was looking forward to something delicious and tender, so it was rather disappointing. After finishing that, I went back across the street to the Preston’s ice cream shop and this time tried a cup of rocky road. The texture of the ice cream there is marvellous – very thick and viscous. The only trouble was my hands froze while eating it as I was walking back to the hotel!

Reuben and onion rings
Reuben and onion rings, Royal Donut Cafe.

Part way back, I took a short detour to drop the cup and spoon into a bin in a park, and walked through the park to the shoreline road on the other side. From there I walked along the bay shore back towards the hotel, getting a good long view of Oakland across the bay and the airport runway with planes landing and taking off.

Back at the hotel I relaxed for a while, having a shower to freshen up. I checked my email, and Lisa has organised everyone to meet at a restaurant called the Velvet Cantina, near the 24th Street BART station, which is convenient for everyone to get to. I’ll head there myself, walking over to Millbrae and catching the train from there. Now I just have to make sure I don’t forget to take the bags of lollies and the jar of Vegemite that I brought as gifts!
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