San Francisco 2018 diary, day 3

10 February, 2018

Sunday 28 January, 2018. 12:52

We are sitting in Noe Bagel in Noe Valley, having a lunch break of bagels. We slept late this morning, having got to sleep fairly late, after 23:00 last night. I got a decent amount of sleep, but we were woke. around 02:00 by blaring sirens on the street outside that lasted several minutes. We got up after 09:00 and had breakfast and prepared to leave slowly, managing to get out close to 10:00.

First stop was Blue Bottle again for M.’s coffee. We sat in this time so I could type up some of yesterday’s diary. While we were there, we were sitting right in front of the counter where they made fancy “siphon coffee“. Some guy had ordered one and we watched while a guy spent what felt like about 15 minutes making it, involving multiple bits of glassware that looked like they belonged in a chemistry lab. First he boiled water in a spherical flask over a heat lamp. He used the steam rising from the water to clean and polish the inside of a glass funnel like thing. Once it was clean to his satisfaction, he inserted a filter, drawing it down until it sealed by pulling a chain through the narrow part of the funnel. Then he attached the funnel into the top of the boiling water flask with a rubber seal. When he did this, the funnel sucked the hot water up into it. Then he prepared a tray with a glass of iced water and two spoons in it, a shot glass of water, and another tall glass, plus a small white ceramic bowl. He grabbed some coffee beans and ground them in a machine, putting the result into a metal cup. Then he stirred the hot water in the funnel with an icy cold spoon and measured the temperature of the water by dipping a thermometer into it. After confirming the temperature, he poured the ground beans in. He let that sit for a while, timing it with a digital timer clock, and put some boiling water into the tall glass on the tray. When the timer went off, he removed the flask from the heat and stirred the mixture of hot water and ground beans so that it drained down into the flask again through the filter in a swirl, leaving a conical mound of dried bean grounds on top. He removed the funnel and tipped the beans into the ceramic cup on the tray, then poured out the hot water in the glass. He poured some of the coffee from the flask into the shot glass, then he took the cup of grounds and sniffed them, deeply several times, then he tasted the shot glass of coffee. Finally he poured the coffee from the flask into the heated tall glass, and took the tray out to the customer, complete with the glass of cold water and the cup of leftover ground beans. We were boggled at how long it took and how complicated it was. We figured if ten people came in and ordered this sort of coffee all at once, it’d take an hour for them to make them all.

After the coffee, we went down to Powell Street BART station to add some credit onto our Clipper cards. The machine refused my Visa card for some reason, so we used cash. Then we went back up to the street to catch an F bus to Castro. The bus took a while to arrive. I was hoping for one of the historic streetcars, but a bus arrived first so we got on that. It’s a fair distance to Castro so I’m glad we didn’t decide to walk all the way.

At Castro we started walking south down Castro Street towards Noe Valley, which was our first real goal for the day. One of the first shops we passed was a place selling cookies, called Hot Cookie, which looked very tempting. All the different types of cookies had suggestive names. We decided to try a Walnut Woody, which turned out to also have chocolate chips in it, which were all molten as the cookie was still warm. The guy weighed it to determine the price. We shared it as we walked down the street outside.

We crossed to the sunny side to look in a shop, but I had to step outside after starting to sneeze uncontrollably, possibly from the incense they were burning inside, as the sneezing stopped once I was outside. At the end of the shops we crossed back to the shady side for the hike up the steep hill. We needed to get to the other side of the hill to reach Noe Valley. From the top we had some views across various parts of the city, though houses blocked most directions. And as we descended into Noe Valley we noticed that Twin Peaks was just to the west, towering over the neighbourhood.

Noe Florist
Florist in Noe Valley

Read more: Exploring Noe Valley, ice cream in Haight-Ashbury, jazz in Lower Haight, and burgers South of Market

San Francisco 2018 diary, day 2

5 February, 2018

Saturday, 27 January, 2018. 22:29

It’s been a busy day! We got up around 08:00 after M. had a good night’s sleep, however I’m not sure I slept at all, as I was lying awake all night and trying to fall asleep unsuccessfully. We had breakfast of the Special K we bought last night, and then I had the sesame seed ball from Golden Gate Bakery, which had a sweet black bean paste filling, although it was mostly hollow, which is a good thing really as it was the size of a softball. The dough was chewy and crunchy from the sesame seeds and it tasted really good.

After walking across to Blue Bottle coffee for M. to get a morning coffee, we walked down Market Street to the Ferry Building. At the craft market in front of the building we saw the man who I’d bought M.’s silver bracelet from a few years ago, and M. got to thank him for making it. He was pleased to see us after she showed it to him and we explained the story. There were a lot fewer stalls there today than I remember usually being there, and the guy told us not to hang around here too long because there was a big protest march down Market Street planned for later in the day, and that he’d probably pack up and leave early himself.

We went across to the Ferry Building and looked at the farmer’s market there. I’d seen part of this before, in front of the building, but now it spilled around the southern end and into the space behind the building too, with dozens of stalls. Many were giving free tastings of their wares, and we got to taste falafels, hummus, three different types of nashi pears (which they call “Asian pears” here), and citrus fruit including sweet lemons, which were interesting.

Farmer's market
Farmer’s market behind the Ferry Building

Read more: Hayes Valley, The Fillmore, Cow Hollow, Marina, and dinner at Greens

San Francisco 2018 diary, day 1

4 February, 2018

Friday, 26 January, 2018. 21:29

We are at the Pickwick Hotel on Fifth Street in San Francisco, after a long day that began back in Sydney. Our flight left at 17:55, so we caught a taxi to the airport about 14:30 to give ourselves plenty of time. However traffic was very light on Australia Day, and we arrived with plenty of time to spare.

The airport was not busy at all. There were only departures leaving about every half hour or so, rather than every five or ten minutes like usual. So it felt very empty, and the check in lines for Qantas flights were virtually non-existent. Since I have silver frequent flyer benefits, we went into the premium economy check in line anyway, to bypass the three or four people in the economy line. I could have used the business class check in, but that was on the other side of the line of counters and we didn’t see it until too late. Never mind, we were checked in within about two minutes of arriving at the airport anyway.

We couldn’t find any of the green departure cards that we’re used to having to fill out each time we leave the country. I realised I’d heard that they were getting rid of them, and it looks like they’ve already implemented that, which is a change from the last time I flew out of Australia. Given that, we were through immigration and security quickly too, and through to the duty free shops and waiting lounges.

We walked around a bit to look briefly at all the shops, then found a seat near the large windows overlooking the runways to eat a late lunch that we’d brought with us: some bread rolls with Vegemite for M. and cheese and tomato for me. We figured an afternoon snack would be useful since dinner on the plane wouldn’t be until around 20:00. After eating, we got some drinks. M. got a coffee and then we sat in a small bar and restaurant place and I had a beer. Then we wandered around some more and sat some more, and M. decided to get a spinach and feta quiche from the same restaurant since she was getting hungry, but I decided to wait until the plane meal.

We headed to the gate, and sat near some guys who looked like rock musicians, and then we realised they were rock musicians! They had gear labelled with the name Papa Roach, which I looked up and determined was a fairly successful band from California, and they’d just toured Australia. So we assumed they must be on our flight heading home. But as it happened, there was a flight to Los Angeles leaving at almost the same time as ours from the adjacent gate, and that’s the one they got on.

Read more: Arrival in San Francisco, Chinatown, Pier 39, Ghirardelli Square

San Francisco x10

22 January, 2018

This Friday (26 January) I fly out of Sydney for San Francisco. I’ll be attending the Electronic Imaging conference, and this year I’ll be presenting a paper there about my work. (You can see the title at Tuesday 11:50 in the programme under Conferences|Photography, Mobile, and Immersive Imaging).

This will be my tenth trip to San Francisco. Apart from Sydney, I’ve spent more time in San Francisco than anywhere else on Earth. I’ve tramped its streets enough times that large areas of the city seem familiar to me. It’s one of my favourite places to visit.

Last time I was there I was killing time on the day that my flight home left late in the evening, and I happened to see a display of books, and one caught my eye. Cool Gray City of Love, by Gary Kamiya. A few weeks ago, I realised I hadn’t read it yet, and with this trip coming up soon, now was a perfect time. I haven’t finished it yet, but will do so before I fly out, and I’ve learnt a lot from its pages so far.

I realise I knew almost nothing about the history of San Francisco. Oh, I knew about the 1849 gold rush, and the earthquake and fire of 1906, and that Mission Dolores is the oldest standing building in the city, and the former vast extent of the cablecar system, and the Summer of Love, and Harvey Milk, and the 1989 earthquake… but that was about it. I assumed the Spanish had arrived very early in their exploration of the New World and established a settlement, making San Francisco much older than Sydney.

But no, not really. The Spanish only found San Francisco Bay in 1769, less than 6 months before Captain Cook found Botany Bay. And they just left a small military outpost there at the Presidio, and the Mission where priests attempted to convert the natives to Catholicism. The first real settler in San Francisco didn’t arrive until 1835, when Sydney was already 47 years old. It was only the gold rush, beginning in 1848, that suddenly multiplied the settlement from a tiny town of a few hundred people to 50,000 people just ten years later.

I really like reading about a place before I visit it, so I can see it with the eyes of someone who perceives the layers and the stories that are lurking otherwise unnoticed to the casual tourist, or even to the local resident. My next mission is to learn more about the history of Sydney, so I can see my home in this same fascinating light.

My first trip to San Francisco was in 1980. That flight across the Pacific had two stops, in Pago Pago, American Samoa, and Honolulu, Hawaii. My next trip stopped only in Honolulu, but thankfully since then non-stop flights have appeared.

And in June this year, I head back to San Francisco again (for an ISO Standards meeting) for visit number 11…

Game of Thrones, Season 3, Ep 7 “The Bear and the Maiden Fair”

15 January, 2018

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

The North, heading South: So apparently the plan was to climb down the southern side of The Wall. At least I think so, because the group of Wildlings (with Jon Snow and Ygritte) are now walking across a landscape with less snow and more grass on it. There’s no explanation whatsoever of how they got down from The Wall to here. Jon has words with the wildling guy who tried to cut him loose while climbing up The Wall; the wildling retorts that it was pragmatism (though in words of one syllable or less), and Ygritte would have known it and she doesn’t care that he cut the rope. He then proceeds to taunt Jon by saying Ygritte would prefer a real man, i.e. him, over Jon. Ygritte and Jon then have a brief lover’s tiff over their different cultures – he wants to look after her but she doesn’t want looking after – then they fall into each others arms again, while the wildlings in their party roll their eyes and say “get a room”.

Jon warns the group that they have no hope of taking Castle Black, or any other force south of The Wall, because they are so untrained and ill-disciplined. They don’t believe him, smug in the superiority of their barbarian fighting style. I dunno… it’s hard to see where all this is going. Jon’s probably right, they don’t stand a chance against any decent force – but that may just mean that they destroy the first one they come across, in a daring display of disorganised brawling. And Ygritte… I get the sense that she really likes Jon, but is still struggling with their differences, while Jon seems more aloof yet more willing to work at it. Maybe she’ll fall out of love with him at the same time as he starts falling more deeply for her.

Read the rest of this entry »

Game of Thrones, Season 3, Ep 6 “The Climb”

20 December, 2017

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

King’s Landing: Tywin can simply order Tyrion to marry Sansa, and Cersei to marry Loras Tyrell, but for the latter he apparently needs to have a “friendly chat” with Loras and Margaery’s grandmother (who is played by Diana Rigg, btw!). This involves him accusing Loras of being gay, which Lady Tyrell parries by casually mentioning the “rumours” about Cersei and Jaime being Joffrey’s parents. Tywin ups the stakes by threatening to make Loras a member of the Kingsguard, which would strip him of the right to marry and carry on the Tyrell name, thus ensuring the end of House Tyrell. Apparently this is enough of a threat, and so Tywin extracts her permission for the marriage. Nobody messes with Tywin.

While this is happening, Sansa and Loras engage in a painfully farcical conversation in which she is trying to flatter and seduce him in her clumsy, naïve way, while he is clearly not at all interested in anything but escaping her company and seeking out some pretty man to be with instead. Sansa remains utterly clueless, the poor girl. If there’s one saving grace to the terrible things happening to Sansa, it’s that often she’s completely oblivious to them.

Read the rest of this entry »

Bull ant encounter

10 December, 2017

This evening my wife pointed out that there was a bug crawling up one of the vertical blinds in the living room. I walked over, saw it was an ant, and grabbed it to take it outside. Next thing I knew, my thumb was like on fire, I threw the ant across the room, and screamed loud enough that my wife thought I was dying.

Turns out it was a bull ant (Myrmecia sp.), which are more or less common where I live in Sydney. I thought I’d been stung by these guys before, having experienced several very painful ant stings in the past, but no, this was a whole new level of pain. All my previous ant sting experiences must have been different species with less potent venom. (And yes, they sting with their tails, they don’t bite with the jaws.) After recovering the ant and immobilising it in a ziplock bag, I took this photo:

Bull ant

Fortunately, I’m not allergic to these guys. For people allergic to the sting, Wikipedia says median time from sting to cardiac arrest is 15 minutes, and most people are dead within 20 minutes. In non-allergic people, all that happens is intense pain. I iced it, and an hour later it’s still quite intense.

I found an article which says that these ant stings are number 4 on the top 10 list of most painful animal bites/stings in Australia. Yeah, no – I’ll pass on all the others, thanks.

Toon RPG adventure

7 December, 2017

Here’s a complete roleplaying game adventure I just wrote. It’s for the game Toon.

“You’re a cartoon rabbit, you’re a cartoon duck, you’re a cartoon cat [add more as necessary to match number of players]. You’re in a pie shop. Go!”

After about 3 minutes of the inevitable: “The owner of the pie shop – a big, mean-looking bulldog – comes out and demands you pay for the damages. Oh no! How are you going to raise the money? You step outside the pie shop into [roll 1d6]: 1 The Big City; 2 a small rural town; 3 the Wild West; 4 Medieval Europe; 5 Ancient Rome; 6 a space station! Go!”

Game of Thrones, Season 3, Ep 5 “Kissed by Fire”

5 December, 2017

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

At the Brotherhood Without Banners: Lord Beric Dondarrion fights Sandor “The Hound” Clegane in trial by combat. This is prefixed by another guy saying prayers to the Lord of Light to ensure the trial goes fairly to determine justice. Then Dondarrion’s sword is lit on fire – it’s not clear if this is a trick of chemicals or some sort of holy magic. But it doesn’t help, as they fight and after trading some advantage Sandor drops a huge blow with his sword and cleaves both Beric’s shield and shoulder! Beric drops to the ground, apparently dead, and Sandor claims victory. Arya goes nuts and rushes at Sandor with a knife, yelling that he’s guilty, but Beric’s men stop her. Go Arya! Then the prayer guy comes over and lays healing hands on Beric, and up he pops, good as new! He releases Sandor, saying he abides by the judgement of the Lord of Light.

A bit later, the Brotherhood say they will take Arya to Riverrun, where her brother Robb is. But Gendry decides to stay with the Brotherhood, which displeases Arya. She wants Gendry to be part of her family, but Gendry is sick of serving Lords and Ladies, and Arya will always be a Lady to him, not family. Arya is upset, but leaves him, and then talks to the praying guy and Beric. He says he’s raised Beric from death six times now, and Beric shows off all the scars from the times he’s died. Interesting. The Lord of Light seems a bit like a proxy for the Christian God, and now we have resurrection stuff to go with it. Hmmm.

Read the rest of this entry »

Game of Thrones, Season 3, Ep 4 “And Now His Watch Is Ended”

3 December, 2017

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

Oh, Sansa Sansa Sansa Sansa Sansa Sansa Sansa Sansa…..

Oh my god, Sansa, what are you doing???

Okay, well, we’ll get to that in a bit. This is a really good episode, with a lot of cool action happening.

The North: The Night Watch men hold a funeral for one of their fallen brothers. Samwell talks to Gilly, the girl who just had a baby. She refuses to give it a name, because she knows Craster will have him killed before long. Tensions rise as some other Watch men complain about having to muck out Craster’s pigsties, and not being given anything to eat, while Craster feasts. Insults start flying and Craster picks up an axe, then all hell breaks loose as a Watch man stabs him, then Commander Mormont returns and gets stabbed as well! An all-in brawl starts, and Samwell rushes to grab Gilly and her baby and flee into the night.

Read the rest of this entry »