June 30, 2010

San Francisco 2010

Few weeks ago I returned from San Francisco, a vacation in the planning since Google I/O registration opened in January. I wrapped a few days of down time around I/O to get away from a lot of University stress that had been accumulating by that time.

Cory, who was also attending I/O, and I met up in Calgary for our flight to San Fran. He'd planned his vacation until the Friday after the conference, I stayed until Sunday. 8 days of absolute freedom. Glorious.

Leaving the airport, on the BART, we encountered some individuals that must have attended "Bay To Breakers" - a group of guys and gals dressed in nothing but tutus, top hats and tons of make up. Quite unexpected, but funny nonetheless. We checked into our hotel, The Mosser, which is a nice hotel if you don't mind communal bathrooms and tiny, tiny rooms. I literally had room to open my door, put a suitcase on the ground and leap to my bed. There is no picture that does justice to how small this room is! Otherwise the hotel was friendly, clean and most important close to the Moscone Centre.

After checking into our hotel we hit up a nice little pub, Thirsty Bear, and had some amazing food. This is where I discovered that Americans can actually brew beer - shock! One just has to ignore all the big brands. My favourite was Anchor Steam, a fantastic, rich Lager.

Monday we set off walking, as twitter was right next to our hotel we thought we'd go check out their place. I wasn't expecting to even get past the building's reception. We got surprised that we walked right past the security guard into the elevator. Remembering their address reading 'Suite 600' I hit the 6th Floor button - when the doors opened we were presented with the twitter logo. "Now what?" Shellshocked we stood in the lobby, took some mandatory pictures of the logo and left. We chickened out even asking for a tour. Dammit!

During a constant drizzle that got us soaked quite thoroughly, we hit up the Golden Gate Memorial Park for an opportunity to dip our hands into the Pacific Ocean. We continued a brisk walk through some paths in the park, back to a transit stop and off to Lombard Street - very amazing street. We walked over to the Piers and enjoyed a tasty beverage and lunch at Joe's Crab Shack. It's such an intense place, servers were dancing and singing every 45 minutes, and some poor people were serenaded as a birthday "present". After lunch, I was happy to set my eyes on some blubber - Sea Lions that is. Barkin' away, hangin' out on a pier in the rain - life couldn't be better. I want to be a sea lion next time...
After another bus ride to the Golden Gate Bridge and a bunch of photo ops we headed back to the Hotel to dry off. We later ventured over to AMC Theatres and checked out Iron Man 2 on IMAX. Quite the experience, as my first IMAX movie.


Tuesday, nerd day. Cory and I rented a SUV and hit up facebook, Google, Apple, Yahoo and then ventured through the mountains to Santa Cruz on Jon's recommendation.
At facebook we mustered up the courage to actually ask for a tour, but were denied. We quickly drove to Google, parked and started walking. We walked through a nice little park and suddenly, without any kind of warning, were on Google grounds. We walked past bikes with Chrome logos for spoke-decoration and right into the umbrella area between "Building 40" and "Building 43" on their main campus. Trying to enter a door labelled "Lobby" we were stopped by a gentleman telling us we should've booked a tour weeks in advance. Disappointed that we couldn't get in, he was kind enough to point us in the direction of the Android statues. We started walking again, around the campus - a security guard on a bike noticed we didn't have Google badges and asked us to only stick to the public side walks as the campus was private property - ironic considering the information Google must know about me: email, reader, docs, calendar, etc. We finished up at Google with pictures (from afar) of the Android statues.


Off to Apple! We had a lunch date with Jon, who was gracious in having lunch with us on campus at "Caffe Macs" - rice, salmon and vitamin water: $9. Amazing. After a nice chat with Jon we got his recommendation to head through the mountains to Santa Cruz if we had time. So we did... after a full circle around Infinite Loop. Of course we saw, what we suspect is, Steve Jobs' Mercedes parked in the visitor lot's disabled spot.


We did a quick drive by of Yahoo and Lockheed Martin, but didn't enter either campus as they looked very secure. Fences, guard houses... what's Yahoo! hiding? ;)
Santa Cruz was great deal warmer than San Francisco was all week - what a difference the water makes. While it was a toasty 30-ish out we walked out on a pier in Santa Cruz, saw some more loud blubber hanging out on a dock, and walked through the Beach Side amusement park.
After returning the SUV at the airport we boarded BART back to downtown SF. Our BART broke down and we were stranded for 45 minutes while we waited for a replacement train. The conductor said there was a problem with the brakes and they couldn't get the train to move in the right direction.

Wednesday, Conference Day 1.
An early rise and delicious, complimentary breakfast from Google we found ourselves third floor Moscone West waiting for the flood gates to open for the ball room for the day 1 Keynote (Google Summary). Highlights included webM, Maps v3 graduating from Labs and the Chrome Web Store. The sessions attended were quite interesting, my favourite included the Chrome debugging tools and inspector and the new PowerMeter API - a project that interests me a lot.
The after party started with some food and an open bar at Moscone. Loads of projects were shown off, including a Tesla Roadster. What a slick vehicle. The after after party, hosted by buzzd, was at Slide Lounge, Cory and I headed out with the VendAsta crew at I/O - Blair, Jason, Kevin and Michael. Jason suggested we hit up the Redwood Room at the Clift Hotel. It's definitely worth checking out if you're in the area. It has an awesome digital picture frame display that hints at two separate stories in a long loop in a dark, almost mysterious setting. I had a great time with a fun bunch of people.

Thursday, Conference Day 2.
Still recovering from the long night I forced a bagel and coffee into myself before the keynote started. Highlights included the Android 2.2 demo aka "Froyo" and Google TV - a demo like I've never witnessed. The demo was done by two uncharismatic engineers that couldn't have messed it up more if they tried. Who'd have though that in a conference of 5000 people, there'd be Bluetooth interference between Google TV and the keyboard? Golly gosh, really? When the device did work it looked like a neat idea - but I'll stay in reserve until I get to play with one myself. They day 2 keynote really didn't impress me much otherwise.
Favourite session of the day was the fireside chat with the handset manufacturers. It didn't help my feelings towards the Android platform in general (that's a different post I'm working on), but it was interesting nonetheless.

Friday Cory headed back home so I was left by myself until my departure Sunday. We grabbed some breakfast at a small coffee shop and said our goodbyes. I headed back to the hotel, relaxed a bit, and headed out to the Pier again. Using my CityPass (includes 7 days of unlimited transit, and a few museum entries - worth the purchase of ~$60 US) I went to the Aquarium. I snapped way to many pictures of another favourite animal - Jellyfish. I did fail to take pictures of two chinchillas fighting it out in their cage - shucks. It was hilarious to watch until finally an attendant pried them apart.


Of course, every city has their crazy people - my encounter was with two gentlemen comparing Obama to Hitler. Who then failed to realize they'd broken Godwin's Law.


I went home again to unload my backpack and head out to find some food. The plan - start walking. I can only recommend this to anyone going to San Francisco. I just started walking. I quickly found two, uh, suboptimal areas of town and just headed the other direction. I walked all the way back out to a non-tourist pier, down Broadway (strippers!), through Little Italy, Chinatown, Union Square and back around Market. I was shut down at an Irish pub, because I believe they didn't quite think "Saskatoon, Saskatchewan" was a real place. "You could be Canadian, but I can't tell from this ID" - apparently a Passport is required. I ended up at an overpriced steakhouse in Union Square called Morton's. Strangely, I was petted by a woman who decided she would rather be at the bar with me than her husband. I still don't quite know how to react if that should ever happen again.

Saturday I slept in. I headed over to the Academy of Sciences in the Golden Gate Memorial Park. While touring the aquarium in the basement someone pulled the fire alarm of the museum. The entire place was evacuated, inspected by the fire brigade and about thirty minutes later we were readmitted. I managed to get into a screening of the planetarium show they have running. It was very interesting, but the highlight was that Whoopi Goldberg narrated the documentary! I retired to my hotel with some takeout of fantastic Fish&Chips from the Westfield San Francisco Centre on Market Street.


The trip was amazing, if you've never been to San Francisco you must go check it out. It doesn't have to be as nerdy as my trip, there's still plenty to see.

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