San Francisco trip

The fog! The fog!

by Suw on August 15, 2005

San Franciscan – nay, Californian – fog is not like normal fog. Normal fog, British fog, hangs still in the air, thick and heavy and suffocating. It sidles in, threatening, like a lippy vandal just waiting for you to turn your back so he can key your car. It promises shipwrecks, slow, painful shipwreck that give you enough time to see the rocks but no means of avoiding them. It echoes to the sound of fog horns, warning the foolish away from the coast. It cloaks pairs of foglights on the motorway, forces you to navigate by following the side of the road, leaving you panicky when the painted lines or the cats eyes vanish. It turns old gnarled oaks into ghosts of the hanged and pylons into invading aliens.
British fog muffles. It is silent. Still. Stealthy.
Californian fog is not like British fog. It moves. At speed. It is fog with attitude, with purpose, with Things To Do. It's patchy fog, even when it's thick, even up close. It clots like blood, great tangles of it speeding across the countryside. It menaces. No matter how hot and sunny the day, Californian fog can race in from the sea and smother the city faster than you can change from your sarong into a nice warm pair of trousers. Californian fog is deceptive, untrustworthy, deceitful, duplicitous. It flows over the land and sea, a great flood of thick, textured moisture, suddenly hiding, suddenly revealing, giving you the merest glimpses of figures through the grey, figures that turn out to be the rocks that will break your limbs asunder. This is the fog of pirates, the fog of thieves, the fog of liars.
Californian fog echoes. But you never know if those echoes are real, or in your head.


Worse than having to pack

by Suw on June 19, 2005

Is having to unpack, because somewhere are the earphones to your iPod. Somewhere, probably at the bottom of your very neat, very tidy and soon to be not very immaculately packed suitcase.
Today I move house again, to the Palace Hotel in downtown San Francisco, ready for the Supernova conference. I will hereby admit that I am nervous about tomorrow. Being on a panel is a piece of cake – you just sit there and answer questions. And if you don't know the answer you either say you don't know, make it up, or answer a similar but not entirely the same question that no one actually asked but to which you actually do know the answer. Moderating is a different kettle of fish because a bad moderator can totally fux0r a panel and so you have to know your stuff and know how to moderate.
When I did the open space session before Northern Voice, it taught me that winging it is all well and good, but it would be better if I actually knew what I am doing. Today I'm going to try to think about what the hell I am going to be doing. If I'm lucky, I may even figure it out before the fact, too.


The Devil looks down on San  Francisco
The story goes, and I think it was Jonas who told me this, that the guy who built the Sutro Tower made it look the way it looks because he liked the idea of the Devil looking down on San Francisco. Get it from the right angle, and you can certainly see Satan.
Anyway, more pics on Flickr.


Still here!

by Suw on June 18, 2005

Well, Friday night, and just got back from seeing Batman Begins and whooeee, it's great! Christian Bale is surprisingly good as Bruce Wayne, and Michael Caine does a good turn as butler Alfred. It's got the darker edge that Batman really needs to succeed these days, and manages to avoid being camp. And a nice line in wry humour too. Too tired right now to do a proper review, but you should go see it. Even if you hated past Batman films, see this one because it kicks ass.
Anyway, all is well here. Staying with my friend Maciej in the Castro, which is a very different area of San Francisco than Adam's place. This is much more in the middle of the city, more vibrant and, well, noisy. Got bugger all sleep the first night but we moved the futon into the back room and that's much better.
Meetings have been going well, and are all done now until I get to New York next week. A weekend off now, and then Supernova starts on Monday.
Can't believe how fast this trip is going. Friday already. All going too fast. I really like San Francisco, it's got a really European feel to it. I feel like I've settled in nicely now – I pretty much know the public transport I need to know, and I'm sorta getting used to the money. Nearly. Actually, the money sucks – the notes all look the same and the coins are all weird sizes. But I still feel like this is a place I could quiet happily live.
Of course, if I did move here, I'm sure I'd be yearning for Europe within seconds, so I guess simple visits will be best for the foreseeable future.


Tsunami? Oh, wait…

by Suw on June 15, 2005

Geeks + Beer + Tags = Technorati Tag Tuesday

Fairly simple concept – get a bunch of people interested in tags in a bar with beer and let them mingle. Kevin Marks and Stewart Butterfield of Flickr were both gonna give a informal talks just to get people thinking.
The original venue was way too loud, so we migrated out onto the bayfront, down on Embarcadero, just north of the Bay Bridge. It was a lovely evening, although with a chill breeze, but it was fun to sit and talk as the sun went down.
Then, around 9.05pm we heard from a nearby loud speaker the following announcement (remembered as best I can):
“There has been a magnitude 7.2 earthquake off the coast of Northern California. A tsunami is expected at 9.20pm.”
The loud speaker was a bit far away, so I didn't hear the whole announcement, but the repeat of the word 'tsunami' got everyone milling around nervously, before promptly deciding to get the hell away from the water. Despite the fact that we were on the other side of the peninsula from the ocean, tsunamis still refract around headlands so it seemed sensible to leave.
As Maciej and I were walking up towards his car with his friend Vicki, I found myself uttering words I never would have expected to hear myself say. Vicki was describing how her house was inland and up a hill a bit, and I heard myself quite calmly say 'Oh, you should be fine from the tsunami there'.
Maciej turned on the car radio as soon as we got in it, and we were relieved to hear that the tsunami warning had been cancelled. No tsunami today. Phew. Left us a bit jittery all evening though, all the same.
Apparently this is the first time that the newly-installed tsunami warning system has been used. The people on the radio seemed to think that it had been successful, but I am not really sure that if it had been a real tsunami whether we would have survived. We were still hardly any distance from the water when the expected time of impact came and there was precious little between us and the bay. But all that's just postulation – there was no tsunami, just a very surreal end to what had been a very interesting evening.
The weird thing was listening to the radio afterwards and hearing the newscaster explaining the difference between strike-slip and thrust earthquakes. I got a sudden flashback to first year geology lectures. Strange.
Anyway. No tsunami. That's good. (Despite the disappointment felt by the little voice in my head that kept saying 'Oh cool! You get to see a tsunami!)


Three things that made me smile today

by Suw on June 11, 2005

Seeing a hummingbird. A real, proper hummingbird. So small, so cute, such a long, thin beak. Looks just like the Nasca lines in the Pampas.
Seeing a Monarch butterfly. You see them on TV, but seeing them for real is just… wow. Cool. Big!
Seeing the Draig Goch flag in the middle of San Francisco and having four Germans look totally confused when I cry out 'Ooh! Draig Goch!', as if they hadn't been rambling unintelligibly all evening themselves.

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All the lovely people

by Suw on June 11, 2005

One of the things I love about getting out of my hovel is that it means I get to interact with real, live people. Ones that actually, y'know, laugh instead of lol-ing or rofl-ing. It's great!
I don't remember when I started reading Kevin Marks' blog. It was ages ago, though. I do remember when I first joined #joiito seeing Kevin's name there and being just slightly intimidated. Kevin was, after all, one of what I perceived to be the bloggerati, and I just felt far too insignificant to be talking to him.
Of course, all that's crap. There is no bloggerati, and Kevin is probably the nicest, most approachable guy you could ever hope to meet. Since I first tentatively said hello on IRC nearly a year and a half ago, Kevin and I have become great mates. As I was going to be in San Francisco, we agreed that I would swing past the Technorati offices to say hello on Thursday, after another meeting.
As it happened, I ended up staying with Adam Hertz, another Technorati-er. He picked me up from the airport and, after I'd showered and changed, asked me if I wanted to pop into the office to see everyone. Like I'd say no!
All this is a rather roundabout way of saying that on Tuesday I got to surprise Kevin by turning up two days early, and it was well worth it just to see the shocked look on his face. We popped off out for a late lunch, and spent the first 10 minutes just giggling like school children before settling down to a really good chat. That's one of the great things about having IM'd for so long – once you get over the difference between speaking instead of typing, you suddenly get to talk in much more depth all this stuff
So, day before yesterday I got to go into Six Apart and meet up with some people there, including Ginger Tulley, whom I first had the pleasure of meeting at Northern Voice, and Anil Dash. I didn't really let on that I was quite excited to be meeting Anil, as he's another of the bloggers I became aware of really early on and he frequently has really cool stuff to say that makes me wonder 'why didn't I think of that?'. I had a great time with the 6A people, and some very interesting conversations. Nice offices, too. Scary Mena banner though.
That night, I got to meet Philip Torrone, which I was really very excited about. I've known PT from IRC for ages, and he is just one of the smartest, nicest people I know. I wish I had PT's talent for being unerringly cool. I also wish I knew as much as he does about gadgets – I felt my geek creds evaporating as he showed us his new toys, including one of the Sony Libre ebook reader which, despite crappy DRM, actually manages to be way cool. The screen works by selectively rotating tiny little spheres which are black on one side and white on the other, which means that you get to read it with no glare in any light conditions. Excellent device, which PT has already hacked so that it works in English (it's Japanese only atm).
We also compared iPod socks – I have a hand-knitted one that has a little pouch in it for the earphones, which I've been been meaning to blog about for ages, but PT beat me to it.
PT had to rush off to get a plane, after giving me the first two issues of Make to read – and oh my, they look good! Where's my soldering iron? But then I got to hang out with Maciej, whom I met briefly in February when I swung through SF on my way home from Vancouver. We went and grabbed something to eat at the SFMOMA.
Last night I finally got to meet my good friend Dan, another IRC/IM mate of mine. We hung out, ate edamame, and talked about all the stuff we usually talk about, pretty much as if we'd been best buddies forever.
Today I met Jill and we went shopping for clothes. I don't usually do that, because nothing in the UK ever fits me. Here, though, not only does stuff fit, but it turns out I am a size 6! And it's all less than half the price it would be back home. I love this place!! The only shop that was a disappointment was Victoria's Secret, which turned out not only to not do my size, but also to have assistants that tried to fob me off with the wrong size entirely just so I would buy something.
After a good afternoon's shopping, we picked up Jonas and Martin, Martin and Dom, The Coding Monkeys (cool! I get to hang out with the guys who did SubEthaEdit!), and drove up over the Golden Gate Bridge just as sun was setting. So pretty. Then on to Sausalito for dinner.
It's just been great, meeting everyone. Makes up in spades for all the time I spend closeted away in front of my Mac in the middle of nowhere.