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Last week, I was in Silicon Valley for work. Our offices there moved from San Jose to a new building in Mountain View and it was my first time at that location – the building/campus is pretty nice! However, the general lifestyle is still the same so that was rather boring. One day, I decided to drive around after work but after the sun went down (i.e., 8pm) there wasn’t a lot I could do/see because the area doesn’t believe in street lights.

I wasn’t happy with that so I went back to the hotel to see what else I could do after work. Looking at the map, I was surprised that Santa Cruz was actually quite close! The next day, I was able to make it out of work early (5:30) and made the drive down. Even with San Jose rush hour traffic, I was able to get there in about 1h20m.

Once you get out of the San Jose area, there’s a really interesting drive up and down over mountains, trees on both sides, lots of S-turns throughout, and a relatively high speed (50+ mph speed limit). I don’t think you can actually go at the posted speed limit for some parts. It was almost worth it to go just for that drive!

I didn’t spend a whole lot of time in Santa Cruz as I had to make it back to my hotel that night. I checked out a beach, walked along the wharf and had dinner there. Foursquare didn’t have a strong opinion so I chose Stagnaro Brothers which seemed ok.

There weren’t a lot of tourists there at that time, but I had some difficulty finding parking. There was a lot of metered parking, which was $1.50/hr. I didn’t know how long I was going to be there and didn’t have that much change. You could also pay online, but after I downloaded the app, signed up for an account and attached my PayPal account – it turns out that at that location I could only pay by Visa/Mastercard…!!! Instead of doing that I decided to drive around some more. Most of the parking was paid under that scheme, but I found a large lot near the Boardwalk where you get a ticket and pay after. Luckily, after dinner when I was leaving, it seemed like they were offering free parking so I didn’t have to pay at all!

Unlike The Imitation Game, I had wanted to see Big Hero 6 for a long time – ever since I heard that the visuals were a combination of San Francisco and Tokyo. But I was hesitant to see it on my flight because I had a copy at home that I hadn’t watched yet – so should I bother watching it on a small screen? I decided that I might as well since my copy at home has been unwatched for awhile.

Aside from the little nugget above, I didn’t know much about the film. But it was interesting right off the bat – the premise is there is a prepubescent hotshot who has his eyes opened about how cool tech is being researched at a nearby technical school (cartoon equivalent of Berkley or Stanford). I liked how Disney basically wove in Silicon Valley (but being a cartoon, they could make up a lot of technology).

Following that is your basic superhero group story, fighting against a super villain. One good thing is that because there’s no backstory/fandom, they could build a group from scratch (it doesn’t help them avoid clichés though). Given that the movie is for kids or pre-teens, I’m not too bothered about that.

I’m going to give Big Hero 6 5 stars out of 5! That might be a little overrated but I’m fine with it. It’s a kids movie so I don’t expect a lot aside from it being fun – and it was. There were actually quite a number of funny parts that appeal to adults/comic book nerds and having a cool mash up city definitely helps its score here.

The Imitation Game is the story of Alan Turing and his work in breaking the Enigma machine that helped shorten WW2 for the Allies. It is also a movie with a sub-theme of being different – whether its autistic, non-military, female or gay. I watched it on my Air Canada flight from SFO -> YYZ (aside: I was originally scheduled to take AA with a stop in DFW, but bad weather caused AA to rebook me on a non-stop with Air Canada).

I didn’t really know the history and after watching it, I was somewhat curious about reading it on Wikipedia. But since I saw it on a flight, I moved on with my life. Curiosity, however, got the best of me and I later found this article that talked about the deviations from history – some are quite significant, but most of the broad strokes are correct.

Although this movie had a lot of Oscar buzz (and was one reason why I chose to watch it), I didn’t find it to be that great of a movie. I wasn’t bored, but I was also a captive audience. I guess I would rate The Imitation Game a 3 out of 5 stars.

The first half of this December was a bit weird. We had finished all our Christmas shopping (but actually had a lot of stuff to wrap because now Apollo has a lot of friends to buy for) and was able to avoid the malls, but we also ended up being really busy because I was away for work for a week and then when I got back everyone was sick.

My trip to the Bay area was rather boring. Travelling there is not like going to NYC at all because all the offices/hotels are in office parks and there’s absolutely nothing to do after work (i.e., can’t walk around). I had a rental car but was a bit constrained because there was nothing I wanted to tour, and I was there with a lot of coworkers so there’s some responsibility to hang out with them. On the plus side, I saw a couple of movies while flying to/from the west coast (plus the travel wasn’t too crazy as I had reasonable flight times and direct flights).

As the holidays came, we did our usual family dinners and social outings. We didn’t put up a Christmas tree this year because we didn’t have space (lots of toys everywhere) and even if we did, I think we would have another problem as there are too many presents to fit under the tree! I guess having kids causes that problem.

Opening presents took A LONG time. It was mostly Apollo’s effort to open his and Jovian’s presents and he would get distracted after opening each one. It basically took the entire day to open, clean up and put away all their new toys. Then more presents showed up after that day as we went to more Christmas events.

We didn’t go out for Boxing Day because it didn’t make sense with kids. We did some Boxing Day shopping online though. I had the week between Christmas and New Years off so we went to a couple of malls later in the week, and it wasn’t that bad in terms of people. But I didn’t end up buying anything due to Black Friday and buying online.

I had a little over 2.5 hours left after my first movie on my flight, so I decided to fill that by watching Captain America 2. I wouldn’t typically watch this movie, but there just wasn’t anything else worth watching. It wasn’t a bad movie and overall more enjoyable than In Bruges but as a comic book fan, I didn’t like it very much.

Black Widow is in it, but I think it could be any sidekick beside Cap and it would’ve sufficed (although I suppose there needed to be a female co-star). Falcon is in it, but I think he wasn’t that important either (assuming there could be another plot that doesn’t require flying). The Winter Solider is in it, but he wasn’t in it enough. The (comic) history of the Winter Solider would have been more interesting to focus on, especially his relationship with Steve Rogers; and while they dwelled on it for awhile, it was only one of several plotlines.

The action scenes with Captain were great, he fought like how you would expect him to fight; but I thought the action scenes got worse as the movie went along – but I guess an “enhanced” human could only do so much. Because I had low expectations and wasn’t keen on seeing it anyways, I’ll give this a 3 out of 5 stars; just like the first Captain America movie.

When I browsed through the movie list on the YYZ< ->SFO flight in December, the only other movie that caught my eye was one called In Bruges, which was about two hitman who were hanging out in Bruges after a hit. I’m not sure why I was attracted to it. Maybe I just wanted to see the city again after visiting there in 2010, or maybe I was curious what 2 hitman would do for a entire movie when they were stuck in Bruges.

The movie started slow and I feared that I would regret my choice (although they had me as a captive audience). As the film moved along, it got more interesting, but I don’t think I was ever fully engrossed in the movie. The plot is fairly surprising and put together well (in the Star Trek: TNG way where a side mention earlier in the plot makes more sense closer to the end). The humor is dark but enjoyable. I was going to rate the movie a 2 out of 5 but it actually grows a bit on you after you’ve watched it so I’ll give it a just barely 3 out of 5 stars.

Wow I haven’t watched a movie for a long time but I had a 6 hr flight to SFO so there was ample time to change that. I was surprised by the lack of selection as the last time I looked at the in flight entertainment was when flying overseas. The one movie I wanted to watch the most was Guardians of the Galaxy.

I wasn’t very familiar with the characters in this Marvel flick but knew of them because I had played the Android game recently. So that was pretty useful. A lot of them actually used their weapons/skills so it was enjoyable to see those in action.

I also had a chance to buy the soundtrack for 99¢ a few weeks ago but declined as I didn’t like the songs well enough. However, I think the music and soundtrack works well with the movie and listening it with headphones was probably beneficial

The movie was pretty fun and I think its ok even if you don’t know the characters. It’s a good mix of comedy and action. I’d give it 4 out of 5 stars (but maybe it’s because I have low expectations)

While I like complaining, the valley isn’t all bad. Here are some interesting things I found on this trip:

  • The car rental facility in SFO is absolutely huge. I guess they get a ton of business from people arriving and driving into the valley
  • There’s an interesting lunch service they have at work where you can order your lunch from a variety of local places and the service will pick them up and deliver in time for lunch. Since I’m only here for a couple of days, it’s pretty interesting but I’m guessing it will get repetitive after awhile.
  • Wi-fi at SFO is free and very fast. Much better than what I’m used to in the Porter lounges in Toronto/EWR

Hmm I thought it would have been a longer list, but I guess I didn’t do too much on this short trip.

I went down to Silicon Valley for a couple of days this week for work. This is my first time here actually (I went down to SF for a couple of days in July 2005 but didn’t spend time in the valley) so it’s been a learning experience.

What I learned is that it is basically like Seattle (but with better weather). Most of the areas that I’ve been driving around are filled with one-storey industrial buildings that house famous tech companies. There are a lot of streets, a lot of traffic lights, and a lot of cars. We drove from Sunnyvale to Mountain View for dinner the first night and it was more of the same. After dinner (at 8pm) it was back to the hotel which was a long term stay place that was reminiscent of my Archstone residences in Redmond.

Since I am still on EDT schedule (so 4 hours ahead), I’ve been waking up early. That’s unfortunate because there’s nowhere to go! There’s no where to walk and even though I have a car, there’s no where that I would want to drive too!

I can see why people would want to live in San Francisco and suffer the commute to the Valley.

Milk is a film about Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person to hold a major public office in California. The movie follows Milk from his 40th birthday until he was assassinated at age 48, and his effects on the gay rights movement in San Francisco. Until I had seen this film, Harvey Milk was unknown to me; but it sounded like he should be an influential figure in (recent) history that I should know, similar to Martin Luther King.

I thought this was supposed to be an engaging story, but I was disappointed in the beginning. I think the problem was my lack of background with Milk. I didn’t know who he was so didn’t understand him as a person; was he an orator and how did he come to have such influence? I felt there was too little time spent on his personal background and his participation in the grassroots movements before suddenly holding public office. Although clocking in over 2 hours, this would have had to be a documentary to do the subject material justice.

The story comes together nicely in the end though, covering Milk’s fight against California Proposition 6 which aimed to prevent gays and lesbians from working in the public school system. That and Sean Penn’s acting (he won an Oscar for Best Actor in this role) made Milk a three out of five star movie in my book. The epilogue was also great as it showed real life pictures of who the characters were based on; the casting and costumes made them look really similar!

I found today’s Real Life webcomic hilarious because I had the same problem when I was driving around San Francisco.

i know, i’ve been slacking and not keeping up with my blogging; i mean i’m like a week behind in san francisco posts! anyways, here is some quick notes:

union square – this is the main “shopping area” of the town, pretty standard complete with the requisite concrete park.

pier 39 – this was supposed to be a tourist trap but i really found it more to be a place with lots of restaurants.

fisherman’s wharf – i couldn’t tell the difference between this and pier 39

united nations plaza – there was a farmer’s market when we were there (sunday)

civic centre plaza – this is where the main government buildings are, and it’s very nice. apparently i have just seen crappy city halls in the cities i’ve lived in as this looked like a pretty standard american city hall.

lombard street – the curviest street in the world i think is a little over rated. plus, how would the people that live there ever go home since there are lines of people and cars around the neighborhood.

coit tower/telegraph hill – this place was kinda neat in that it’s in the middle of the city but pretty isolated (i.e. there’s only one road up and down). the view was spoiled by the fact that the sun was too bright! why couldn’t the sun be bright when we wanted it to be.

crab house – we had dinner at the crab house on pier 39, it was known for its crab but (maybe i’m not a crab connisseur) i didn’t find it too special.

impromptu fireworks – after having some confusion about what we were doing on sunday night, we were heading back on the streetcar after midnight past the piers when we started seeing random fireworks, so we jumped off the streetcar and ran down to the pier and apparently there were a large group of asian kids setting off what seemed to be professional fireworks. that was neat.

monday was the drive back; we checked out of the hotel at like 5am, didn’t have to pay for parking because no one was there to take our money and got back to seattle by 7:30. overall the trip was very cheap; about $100 for gas and accomodations and under $200 including attractions and food.

On Saturday, we checked out a place called Picaro cafe (omg none of these places have their own website, i’m too used to Seattle) which served Spanish Tapas and Sangria. I didn’t know what Tapas were, but they are apparently little dishes of entrees ($6-$8 each) which everyone orders and shares. Just think of it like Dim Sum with larger dishes, we ended up having 10 tapas between the 5 of us. While we were eating, two hispanics came in with an accordian and (my guess is) a Spanish guitar and started playing random music. Eventually, someone called them over and paid them and so they played for the table; except I think it was the same song they played before! Aside from that, it was a nice little place and dinner ended up costing $20 each (hey right on average).

A short walk from Picaro Cafe was Castro, an “up and coming” gay district in San Francisco. They had a huge rainbow flag flying in the middle of the neighbourhood and even without that, you could obviously tell that it was a gay neighbourhood. So we spent some time there, took a walk in Tower records, tried to catch a glimpse of the Twin Peaks and the left for the car.

Back in the car, we headed off to Treasure Island. Treasure Island is an island in the middle of the Bay Bridge and the home of a Naval base. The real reason we were there that night was because there was an awesome view of the lights of San Francisco and the Bay Bridge. Unfortunate for me, I don’t have a good tripod yet otherwise I would have some awesome photos for you. Since the island was basically in the middle of the bay, it was hella windy; in fact I would say it felt like it was below zero with the windchill!

On Sunday, we had an interesting time trying to meet up with the other people who came with us around Fisherman’s Wharf. While we were there however, we saw an amazing display of spray paint artists who would draw these incredible scenes of San Francisco in like 10 minutes. They were also selling prints for $5 ($10 if you wanted to request one that they drew for you on the spot) which when coupled with their street performance seemed like a great deal; that is until you looked at it under light and discovered that it was actually a print. The performances themselves were amazing, they had upbeat dance music on the whole time, and would use fire (WD40 + lighter?) to dry off their paintings.

The Golden Gate Bridge is probably the most famous tourist attraction in San Francisco and I went to see it twice. The first time was on Saturday when we drove up near the bridge and hung around the lookout points to take pictures of the bridge. Fortunately for us, we started off at the worst (comparatively) location to take pictures so as we walked closer and closer to the main tourist area; our picture opportunities got better and better. Sadly, there was cloud/fog cover over the top of the bridge so we decided not to do our cruise on Saturday.

So on Sunday, with a lot of promise we headed off to Pier 39/Fisherman’s Wharf to take the cruise. We actually found a deal from this wholesale booth and got like $4 discounts on the tickets? I didn’t have time to research all the deals so I think we got a discount 😉 Anyways, we ended up wasting like an hour and a bit waiting around because we wanted to get good seats for the cruise, and boy let me tell ya; it was worth it.

We were the first in line so we got to stand at the nose of the boat and spent the hour long cruise with the most unobstructed view of the area. We saw boats, waveboarders, and even a couple of seals swimming in the bay. Looking back, I took way to many pictures of the bridge from a distance but of course, the bridge was again covered in clouds/fog.

After going under the bridge and seeing it up close, the cruise went around Alcatraz and we got to see the ruined buildings. I didn’t know too much of the history of Alcatraz so I didn’t get to much out of it, but well at least I can say I saw it and have pictures of it. There’s also a four hour tape tour where you can go on the island, maybe I’ll do that the next time I’m in the city.

On Saturday we also went to Golden Gate Park, which is the big park in the city. There was a bunch of stuff there: Conservatory of Flowers, bisons, Dutch windmill and probably more stuff that we didn’t see. Of the three I think the Dutch windmill was the coolest; from afar, the building seemed like it was made of interesting material which I guess was actually brick. The best part of this visit was that down the street from the windmill was the Pacific coast! So we walked a block and stood around on the beach while the tide came in. Alas, the sun was again not out (OMG we brought the Seattle weather with us) but it was still fun to walk around on the beach.

After visiting Stanford, we headed off to University of California at Berkeley; otherwise known as Cal. While I didn’t spend as much time on the Berkeley campus as I did at Stanford, I liked the environment and architecture much more. The buildings were larger and grander and had the whole old style feel; even though Berkeley is known for being progressive.

The neighborhood in which the campus is situated was also very vibrant and I’m sure if you lived there you would always have cool places to eat, neat things to see and plenty of non-mainstream places to visit. Between that and the fact that there is sun and nice weather in California, I was left wondering why people would choose Waterloo over Cal.

We grabbed lunch near campus at a place called Smart Alec’s (whose slogan is healthy fast food). I had a burger on whole wheat bread and air backed garlic fries. Can you say not McDonalds??

Saturday was also the day that we spent a lot of time in the car driving around San Francisco. Now this was something we wanted to avoid, so we purposely left all the driving events on one day. One thing I have to say is that driving in San Francisco is horrible.

Like many downtowns, San Francisco is filled with one way roads. Now that would be OK and all except that half the time you couldn’t turn left; and the other half of the time you couldn’t turn at all. So basically you’d better know the one or two intersections that you can turn on and get into the lanes beforehand. Oh yeah, there was also gratuitous honking and finger giving.

Anyways, we had a great location for our hotel, it was smack in the middle of downtown near city hall. The problem was that we drove past it going the opposite direction (didn’t want to jump into traffic) with no ability to turn around, and we finally did turn around we were one street away from the street we wanted to be on with no way of turning to get on that street.

One positive thing I do have to say about the traffic is that they have their traffic lights situated in such a way that when you’re going up or down hill, all the lights in your direction are green. Which is not the way they do it in Seattle so half the time you’re stuck at a red worrying about rolling back when it’s your turn to go.

On Friday, we left for San Francisco at about 4:45. We took an alternate to the I-5 through Tacoma in order to beat traffic and it seems like we were somewhat successful. Having only to stop for dinner and gas in Oregon, and Northern California (holy crap it was expensive! $2.679/gallon), we made it to Vacaville, which is 50 miles outside of San Francisco by 4:30AM in the morning. I was going to have a great Saturday considering I slept 30 minutes the entire night.

We stopped off at the local iHop for some breakfast and then headed on our way to Stanford University after another stop for gas. The car ahead of us called back (wow cellphones were so useful on this trip) saying that once you get on the road to Stanford there is only one gas station and it was like $2.729/gallon or something. So we filled up in South San Francisco and went on our way.

Stanford University was not exactly what I expected. The buildings were all in a Spanish style; I had expected something classical and British. Aside from that, their campus was pretty nice with palm trees all around (side note: I didn’t expect there to be that palm trees so far north!). We spent some time there and of course I took a lot of pictures. I’ve posted the photos from my trip tagged with San Francisco

It’s the 4th of July long weekend, the transportation’s arranged, hotels are booked, and activities are half-assedly (sp?) planned. I’m heading on a 12-15 hour road trip to San Francisco. Here’s the plan:

Leave work at like 4PM and hopefully find alternates to the heavily trafficked routes. Drive all night through Washington State, Oregon, northern California and get into the Bay Area by 9AM.

Hit the places around town that we’ll need a car for, looks like UC Berkeley, Golden Gate Bridge and who knows what else yet (told you, it’s half planned). Check in to our hotel and maybe catch some nightlife (someone mentioned AsiaSF. Hrmm…)

The plan on Sunday’s to take the BART and walk around the city. Destinations include Fisherman’s Wharf/Pier 39, Coit Tower & Telegraph Hill, Lombard Street, In & Out Burger, and ??

Monday’s the long drive home, hopefully since we are doing the trip in the day we will have a chance to go on Highway 101 and see some nice scenery on the coast.

Will blog when I get back and rested.