San Francisco 2013 diary: Day 5

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!

20:46. BART train from 24th Street to Millbrae

The final session of the conference was interesting, with the talks I attended being about human perception and analysis of art. There were some cool presentations. One was about quantifying the accuracy of drawings, and it was nice work, except I couldn’t figure out why you’d want to do that. So I asked a question after the speaker had finished, saying this was obviously not intended to be a way of marking art students. She said actually in a way it was. The motivation was to see what methods of art training were most effective in helping students improve their realism and accuracy.

Another presentation was about how humans prefer the visual appearance of images with fractal nature. This includes natural images, and certain types of more abstract artwork, such as the drip painting of Jackson Pollock. Shown abstract artwork of different fractal dimensions, there was a significant viewer preference for fractal dimension around the 1.5 mark, which matches both natural fractal textures such as trees, and also Pollock’s work. When this talk concluded, one guy got up and stated that the conclusions were rubbish because where were other patterns, such as of varying sized stripes, that also had fractal dimension around 1.5, and “obviously” they would not show the same viewer preference. The speaker tried to say that she thought maybe they would, compared to other striped images of different fractal dimension, it was something to test, and the guy insisted that it was “obvious” that they wouldn’t. A bunch of people in the audience tried to argue the speaker’s point with the questioner, but he wouldn’t back down and kept saying how ridiculous the work was. It was quite a scene for an otherwise staid conference!

After that drama, I went back to my room and prepared to go out to meet Lisa, Mary, Casey, Martin, and also Lisa’s husband Rick for dinner. I walked to Millbrae to catch BART to 24th Street, where I got off. I had about half an hour to kill, so I walked up and down the block a bit, taking photos of the street scene there. It seemed to be a district with a strong Hispanic influence, and there were some cool restaurants and bars and fruit shops to take photos of. There were also a few hot dog sellers on the street, frying up sausages and onions, and they smelled delicious as I walked past, though with dinner to come soon I resisted the temptation.

Mission night
Mission Street.

Eventually I went to the Velvet Cantina, and spotted Mary, Casey, and Lisa right outside the door as they were entering. Nobody had made a reservation, but luckily there was a lone table available and the waiter squeezed an extra two seats on to fit six of us. Martin arrived soon after, and then Rick. We got a jug of margaritas, and the were strong and limey and nice. We just ordered mains, and I decided to try the chicken mole to see how it compared to the version I can get back home at Montezuma’s. The plate came out with three chicken legs on it, smothered in a rich, dark sauce, plus refried beans, rice, and a bit of cabbage with a vinegary and very spicy dressing on it. The mole sauce was amazing, rich and with a very definite chocolate flavour which I never get from the one back home, and a bit of a kick of chili heat to it. It was really delicious. That and the chicken were filling and I only had bits of the rice and beans.

Once done eating, I handed out the lollies I’d brought from Australia. Rick bravely tried a musk Life Saver, declaring that it smelt really weird, but deciding that he could get into the flavour. Casey and Mary took a couple of the rolls, saying they will let Owen (their two-year-old) try them, figuring he’d probably not be put off. Martin pounced on the Vegemite, saying he actually loved the stuff. We chatted about various things for some time, then eventually split the bill and made our way out.

Taqueria el Farolita
Taqueria el Farolita, Mission Street.

Martin walked off in a different direction, but the rest of us went back to the BART station and waited for our trains. We pretty much all got different trains, so I said farewells in batches. My train was the last to arrive, but eventually it did so, taking me back towards my hotel for my last night here in San Francisco.

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