In 2014 I took a trip to Vancouver to attend the SIGGRAPH 2014 conference. I did not keep a daily diary on this trip (or if I did, I've lost it). This account was written in 2019 from memory and piecing together clues from my photos.
I flew out of Sydney on a direct flight to Vancouver on Air Canada. Because of the date line, I arrived on the morning of the same day in Vancouver. I took a shuttle to the city and found my hotel, the Westin Grand on Robson Street, just across from the fancy new central branch building of the Vancouver Public Library. I was given a room high up in the hotel tower, with amazing views of the city around me, including a view down Robson Street to BC Place Stadium.
View from Westin Grand Hotel room
After settling in I went for a walk to a nearby supermarket to get some supplies for breakfast. I don't remember what I bought, but probably some sort of breakfast cereal and either yoghurt or milk to go with it.
IGA supermarket, Robson Street
Then I went for a walk to meet a friend, who I hadn't met before. Constantine and I had worked together as co-authors on the roleplaying game book Transhuman Space: Under Pressure for Steve Jackson Games, but we did the whole thing remotely and had never met. He was studying at Victoria on Vancouver Island, and we arranged for him to travel over to the mainland for the day and meet up with me. I think we met at my hotel, from where we went across the street to check out the interestingly designed and modern library building. This building has been used as a set for the TV shows Battlestar Galactica and Caprica.
Vancouver Public Library
From there we walked over to BC Place, where we stopped to have a quick look around this impressive and large stadium.
Statues of Terry Fox, amputee marathon runner, outside BC Place stadium
From here we headed around the False Creek inlet to Science World, then known as TELUS World of Science. Both being scientists, this was the obvious place to go check out together.
We spent a few hours checking out this science museum, which was really good, with a lot of interactive exhibits and fun things to do. One room had a selection of athletic activities, including a short running track where two people could time themselves racing against one another. At the end of the track was the wall, heavily padded so you could run into it without slowing down.
Another activity was a baseball pitching enclosure, where you coud throw baseballs and try to throw through the strike zone over a base the regulation distance away. I had a few goes, and it was really hard to throw a ball accurately over that distance, though I did manage to get one in the strike zone.
The museum also had an outdoor stage, where we sat in the heat of the sunny day to watch staff perform various demonstrations with water powered rockets and exploding drums and stuff.
After watching the show, we walked across to the Chinatown area, where there was a Chinatown Festival in progress, with food stalls, markets stalls, and various entertainment. We walked around, exploring a few blocks of the neighbourhood, heading east until we reached an area that looked a bit run down and seedy, where we turned around and headed back west towards the city centre.
Around here Constantine departed, to head back to Victoria, leaving me to explore a bit more and find somewhere to sit and have a drink and a late lunch snack. I found The Blarney Stone Irish pub and had a Guinness, and some bread and hummus.
Guinness at The Blarney Stone Irish pub
From here I explored the historic Gastown neighbourhood, which has been gentrified and turned into a tourist-friendly area with plenty of shops and restaurants. I saw the famous Steam Clock, which looks very old but was only built in 1977.
The Gastown steam clock
I found a Japanese place called Momo Sushi to sit and have dinner, having a bento-box style meal before returning to my hotel for the night. I didn't remember, but my notes on the photo say that the meal was only so-so.
Dinner at Momo Sushi
This was the first day of the SIGGRAPH conference, the largest global conference on computer graphics. I was here because at the time I was in a project working on photographic image reconstruction and rendering techniques, to improve photography. The conference was on at the Vancouver Convention Centre, a newish facility on the waterfront of Burrard Inlet, just a few blocks from my hotel.
Burrard Inlet, Vancouver
I arrived there early, because I had to register before entering. I knew SIGGRAPH was a large and popular conference, but I asn't prepared for just how many people where there. First there was a huge queue waiting to get inside the room where registrations were happening:
Queue to get inside the registration room at SIGGRAPH 2014
And then once inside the room, there were huge queues to get to the registration desks!
Queue inside the registration room at SIGGRAPH 2014
Once I'd registered and picked up my registration package, it was time to work out what to see and do. The conference has multiple streams of talks and displays going on simultaneously, so you can't see everything. I prioritised the photography and image processing talks because that's what my work involved, but I also took some time to attend some fun events, and to browse through the large exhibition space where dozens of companies and institutions had stalls showing off their technology. I recall that this conference was the first time I realised just how important machine learning and convolutional neural networks in particular were going to be to my field of work.
At lunchtime I went for a walk along the waterfront of Burrard Inlet, heading west along the Seawall Water Walk, past Coal Harbour, about as far as Cardero Park. Right next to the convention centre was the Olympic Cauldron used for the flame for the 2010 Winter Olympics.
2010 Winter Olympics cauldron
I stopped for lunch at a cafe facing the inlet of Coal Harbour, and had an Italian panino with roast vegetables on it for lunch. It came served with corn chips, which was a bit weird for an Italian sandwich, but hey.
Panino for lunch, Coal Harbour
At one splot along my walk I saw a man filleting salmon by the waterside. I assume they'd just been caught and brought in on a fishing boat moored nearby, and this guy was preparing them for sale or for packing into chilled cases for delivery somewhere.
Salmon filleting guy, Coal Harbour
In the afternoon I checked out some of the exhibits in the exhibition area of the conference. There were tons of interesting things to see and do here, and large crowds of people at most of the stalls. One stall had a robotic conveyer belt with multiple digital SLR cameras mounted above it on stepping motor tracks, taking hundreds of photos focused on the belt below. The belt was covered with arrangements of food objects, placed by visitors to the stall. The whole idea was to capture so many high resolution photos that they could be stitched together into the world's first terapixel macro image. This stall was showing off the technology of the company GigaMacro.
The GigaMacro terapixel image being created
Also attending the conference was Stuart, one of my co-workers, who was on a different project and so attending different talks. We met up after the day of activity to have dinner together. We walked over to Gastown and found a place called Chill Winston. We had a small dish of ceviche for a starter, then I had roasted Arctic char ( a type of fish) for my main meal. For dessert I tried the "PB&J", which was a fancy dessert take on a peanut butter and jelly sandwich: peanut butter mousse with toasted bread, fresh raspberries, and chocolate crumble.
Roasted Arctic char at Chill Winston
After dinner, it was a walk back tp my hotel for the night.
On this day I saw one of the most intriguing things at the exhibition. There was a stall with an installation named Birdly, which was a bird flight simulator. The user laid down face-down on a platform, and wore VR goggles and small paddles strapped to the hands. The person could then flap their arms like a bird and manoeuvre by tilting, and the VR goggles showed imagery as if the person was flying like a bird through a landscape. There was also a fan blowing air into the user's face, to simulate the rush of wind while flying. There was a large queue of people waiting to give it a go, so unfortunately I didn't manage to try it for myself, but it looked amazing and very cool.
Birdly bird flight simulator
There were also a lot of 3D printers producing stuff. This was my first real experience seeing 3D printers in action. There were small models making things out of plastic wire, similar to consumer models that you can buy for home use. But there were also 3D printers using different materials, such as paper, wood, metal, and ceramics.
MakerBot 3D printer
At lunchtime I had a quest. In Vancouver is a gelato shop called Bella Gelateria, which I'd read has won first place in the North American gelato championships, and also first place in the "international" category of the world gelato exhibition in Italy. Naturally I had to make my pilgrimage to this place - essentially crowned the best gelato outside Italy - and sample its wares.
It wasn't a long walk from the convention centre. When I got there, there was a queue out the door.
Queue at Bella Gelateria
Once I got inside, I ordered a selection of creamy flavours: a scoop each of old fashioned chocolate, hazelnut, and banana bread. It was soft and a bit melty, but luscious and delicious.
Creamy gelato flavours at Bella Gelateria
This afternoon I took a bit of a break from the hectic science and technology of SIGGRAPH and had a restful sit outside at a bar called Tap & Barrel. I tried some poutine to make up the remainder of lunch after the gelato, and washed it down with a beer, while enjoying the sunshine and the views over Burrard Inlet. I really liked the poutine.
Poutine and beer in the Vancouver sunshine
For dinner I met up with Stuart again and we found an Indian restaurant named The Copper Chimney, which was a bit fancy. I had dhal makhni soup for a starter, followed by tandoori salmon. I was really taking advantage of the seafood here on the Canadian pacific coast!
Tandoori salmon at The Copper Chimney
I atended SIGGRAPH again in the morning and afternoon. I don't remember which day it was, but one thing I attended was a talk about the production of the computer graphics for The Lego Movie. This was one of the more popular talks, in a large auditorium with several hundred people. It was given by the special effects team for the movie. They described a lot of the technical details for how they simulated the Lego blocks in the computer code. One interesting thing was that when they did the first test renders, the Lego looked too smooth and unrealistic. They realised that physical Lego blocks have a tiny manufacturing tolerance, so they're not exactly identical in size. So they added a tiny random jitter to the sizes of the simulated bricks, and when they assembled those into constructions and rendered the, they looked much more realistic.
At lunchtime I went again to Bella Gelateria because it had been so good the day before. This time I tried some of the fruit flavours: strawberry, lemon, and mango.
Fruity gelato flavours at Bella Gelateria
I'd had so much rich food that I decided I needed a healthy lunch after this, so I found a supermarket and bought a pack of cut raw vegetables, containing celery sticks, peeled carrots, sliced cucumber, broccoli florets, and cherry tomatoes. So that was my lunch for the day.
In the afternoon I explored the exhibition hall some more. There was a skateboarding half pipe with a guy skating in a motion capture suit - black with white dots on the limb joints - and cameras around him were capturing the live motion and inserting a virtual skateboarder into various digital environments which spectators could see live on display screens. There was a large 3D capture dome with lights mounted all around the sample space in the middle of the sphere, large enough for people to walk inside. There were various 3D and volumetric displays, using different technologies. None of them were particularly good or convincing, but it was interesting to see what people are working on in the field of 3D display.
For dinner, Stuart and I met up with a couple of people from the Canon USA research group based in the San Francisco Bay area, who were also here for SIGGRAPH. They'd organised a booking at a very fancy restaurant: Yew in the Four Seasons Hotel. This was a seafood restaurant, and so naturally we tried several different seafood specialties for the appetisers, and then shared a giant "seafood tower" for the main meal.
Appetiser course at Yew
For dessert I had the chocolate torte, which game with chocolate ice cream, rolled oats, raspberry coulis, and a garnish of tempered chocolate with gold leaf.
I attended more talks and spent more time at the SIGGRAPH conference exhibition. They had a few artistic interactive exhibits, where you could take part in painting, or printing images in special paper which you then coloured over with pastels. I printed a sunrise photo that I downloaded form my own Flickr account and coloured over it, producing an interesting result. I also used watercolours to paint a giant image of a fly, which was part of an exhibit where participants were creating an artwork based on the Seven Plagues of Egypt.
For dinner Stuart and I went to Cactus Club Cafe, a sort of Mexican place. We had hot wings and meatballs to start, and then I had chicken fajitas for my main meal.
Chicken fajitas, Cactus Club Cafe
For dessert I had a key lime cheesecake. Lucky I only had raw vegetables for lunch yesterday!
Thursday was the last day of the conference, and I had a flight booked home late in the evening. The morning was very foggy over Burrard Inlet.
Vancouver Convention Centre in the morning fog
In the late afternoon I met up with a contact from online - a guy who I can't now remember the name of, I think probably from alt.callahans or an associated group. I do remember we had a good time, first going to a bar near the city centre called Rogue, to have a drink, and then heading to a restaurant called Good Wolfe over in the Yaletown neighbourhood, south of the city centre.
Salmon pastrami and artichoke dip with fried kale, Good Wolfe
The food there was really good. We shared a plate of salmon pastrami and an artichoke dip decorated with fried kale as a starter. For my main dish I ordered the Cornish hen in Gewürztraminer sauce with spätzle, which was possibly the best meal of the trip - and I'd had some excellent meals already.
Cornish hen in Gewürztraminer sauce with spätzle, Good Wolfe
Thoroughly stuffed, I said goodbye to my friend and went back to my hotel to pick up my bags. From there it was a trip to the airport and getting on the flight back to Sydney.