Saturday, March 31, 2007

Santa Cruz Road Tripping

We decided on the spur of the moment, to take a little celebratory trip in our car. So Alex and Brendan and I after work, went for a drive to the Cabrille Highway, otherwise known as the Coastal Road (Highway 1). It's part of the most scenic part of California, and runs from San Francisco and down a lot further. Between Santa Cruz and San Francisco, it's 75 miles of little beaches and largely undeveloped coastland.

Getting there was fairly straightforward, luckily, because we had no map. We followed Highway 85 outside our house until it reached Highway 17, and just followed the 17 through the mountains to Santa Cruz.

Then we went up north a few miles to the first beach we found, at Davenport. This was a little village complete with a tiny church with "DOM" on the front, a few restaurants, a scary old house, and a huge cement plant we drove around with its own railroad.

The cement plant had 'interesting' signs, and seemed deserted except for two men in hard hats. The beach we found was gorgeous - a swath of limestone cliffs with a sandy bay hidden inside. We walked along the ridge to the edge of the cliff and looked down:

Brendan drove there on the windy freeway, and I drove back in the dark. So yay, freeway driving and night-time all in one! Brendan was going 65 mph and still got the fingers pulled at him as they passed, by some guys going 85 round all the tiny corners. It was quite scary. Also, in the dark, it was even more of a challenge than usual to stay in the right lane - I missed the exits/ entries for the freeway several times and had to go around.

Moving mattresses

Helping Alex move his mattress to his new house was actually quite funny. After much discussion over why scotch tape plus car paint is a bad idea, and untangling of string, we carefully tied the mattress to the top of our freshly-washed car and set off. Stopping at every single traffic light, the mattress inched backward. Accelerating again once the lights turned green caused the mattress to fly upwards from the car, threatening to mow down the SUV behind us.

Brendan held tightly on to the strings in the back seat. Alex drove with one arm out the window holding the mattress down at the front, while I held on to the other side with one hand. People driving by laughed at us. Eventually we got the mattress there without incident and untied it from the car.

Free computer power supplies

Since my computer died spectacularly a while ago, I ordered a new power supply for it. Fry's had a great deal:

Power supply: $28.00
Mail-in Rebate: $28.00
3-day shipping: Free with deal: $0.00

Total cost of power supply:

$2.30 Californian GST.

And now, my computer (sort-of) works again. It won't play Warcraft, though.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Secret car security

Brendan spent about 10 minutes last night trying to unlock the car security, since we accidentally locked it while painstakingly picking the white racing stickers off the front and back of the car.

I bumped one switch by the wheel and couldn't work out which way it went, but alarms went off. Brendan played with all four switches, and suddenly lights all over the car were flashing, and the dashboard was flashing, and the car beeped angrily. After 10 minutes, Brendan swore and walked off. I climbed in, flicked the switch next to the steering wheel, and it started!

On our insurance, this is called a "passive" security system. We still have no idea what the four switches scattered around the dashboard are, or how to work cruise control.

But finally, the racing stripes are gone. And the car has been car-washed this morning - quite an experience when water started pouring in near the windscreen above the driver's seat! - but it still has the faint lines. Oh well. At least we can recognise it.

Alex wants to transport his mattress to his new house on top of our car today... I should probably be very worried.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Car troubles - on the second day!

One of the reasons in Wellington I was glad I didn't own a car is that car owners always seem to be having problems with them and spending vast sums of money to fix them, none of which I could have afforded as a student.

On the second day of our owning our new car, the problems made an entrance.

When I took the car out of the garage the day after we bought it, I didn't notice anything different, other than a huge thump as I went over the speed bump in the complex. But I thought that was just the racing suspension. When I came back, our neighbours pointed out that it had a completely flat tyre on the front left side.

They also kindly offered to change the tyre. They have the garage next to ours, with two motorbikes, and all the tools. I said, "No, I need to learn how to do it myself," but they were very insistent (and I was wearing a dress) so I gratefully accepted. Luckily I did, as the guy needed to use different tools than the ones we had, to get the nuts and bolts off, and the spare tyre on. I think I need another look at the box of parts the guy who sold us the car gave us. The jack is now in the boot ("trunk"), anyway, but I can't find the other bit I need. I think Alex is eager to give us "changing the tyre" lessons at some point, but I have an idea of how to do it.

I very very carefully drove along Blossom Hill Road on the spare, avoiding the huge white post truck which kept changing lanes, down to the tyre shop to get it repaired. Feeling very novice-like, I approached the nearest mechanic.

The mechanic came back with my keys, saying that he couldn't get the car to start. I assumed it was the wheel lock, and told him how to do it, but he tried that and it didn't work. He'd just hooked the car up to jump-start it, when he discovered a trick to unlock it. Holding down the "unlock" automatic locking device when the key was in the engine. So I discovered that this car has lots of random switches and security features, that we don't know how to operate. Great. (/sarcasm.)

The man behind the Goodyear counter was really funny - he told me the tyre had a broken side wall and was hence unrepairable. It was a bit sad because the tyres on our car are extremely new, but the warranty stays with the person and not the car. (He told me not to tell the repair shop if it happened again.) Geoff thinks we hit something, but in fact the tyre was already broken when we got it, but we asked the guy to pump it up as part of the sale conditions. We thought it was repairable.

I got out my wallet to pay. The Goodyear man said,
"Hold on! That's not how you are supposed to do it! I say, 'It needs a new tyre. It's going to cost this much.' And then you say 'Oh no!' *putting his hand to his mouth in mock horror* and act horrified, and then I say, 'Well, you need a new one.' And then you say, 'Oh I suppose I have no choice then.' And then you sign the paper, and I go away and put the new tyre on. And then I come back and tell you your tyre is ready, and then you pay me. OK?"
So we shook on it. And I paid him when he told me the tyre was now ready, and tried to avoid blinking an eyelid when I realised that $83 in America is really $83 plus 8% tax, which makes it over $90. An expensive second day of car ownership all round.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

We Have Ignition (and the rest of a car)!


On monday, after much research and travelling around the "greater San Jose region", we went to buy our first car.

We first looked at it on Sunday. Shortly after inspecting a very cheap Corolla (and discovering a great many reasons why it was so cheap), I got a call from a seller I'd emailed on Craigslist, asking if I was free to look at a car in a couple of hours time. Here's the ad we were responding to:

For those who are interested, this is what we were looking for:
  • ~$2000
  • Automatic (neither of us can drive manual yet)
  • Slightly larger, four-door car (for road trips)
  • No glaring mechanical problems (because we don't know how to fix them)
  • Japanese (to avoid future glaring mechanical problems)
  • Working Air Conditioning (because it's California and summer is coming)
  • Decent fuel economy.
The Galant seemed to fill all of the above except for the fuel economy (and it doesn't completely fail at that).

In what later turned out to be a mistake, we agreed to meet up at a mall near the sellers house. We spent 45 thouroughly confused minutes trying to find him before realising that despite his insistance that he was "almost there", he had actually had to call a friend to jump-start the car. It hadn't been driven for four months.

Luckily it was worth the wait. Every major problem (the battery was dead, one of the seats wasn't bolted in correctly, the rear speakers hadn't been screwed in) was immediately accepted by the seller and he promised to fix them all. He even pointed out that the rubber on the engine mounts had worn thin (something we never would have noticed) and offered to pay for replacements. By the time we went to pick it up on Monday, he had fixed all the problems except the battery, which he and his dad went to replace while his mum gave us tea and biscuits. You can't ask for much more than that.

The only drama of the day was when we excitedly drove our new purchase onto the freeway home, and then realised that the fuel guage was on empty and we were 2 miles from the next exit. Needless to say, we were very happy that "Empty" doesn't actually mean "Empty".

Here's a few snaps of the car, now safely back at our apartment complex. And yes, we are going to take the stripes off (they are cop magnets, and the idea of racing strips on a Galant is somewhat amusing).



There are still a few problems that need to be sorted out. The suspension needs to be changed back to the original set (the current set makes for a bumpy ride, even on the freeway), the drivers-side window doesn't roll quite all the way up, and replacing the engine mounts should make it alot quieter. But overall we're very pleased with our first auto purchase... now we just have to figure out the security system. More on that later.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Buying a car.... or trying to

The last few weeks and weekends have been very busy for us as we have been looking for a car to go with our (then non-existant) licences.

Much scouring of ads on Craigslist has been done by Brendan and Geoff (cheers, Geoff) every single day... cars were compared and pronounced "mean" or "not mean"; new car parts, makes and models were learnt, and we spent a good deal of time travelling to new suburbs and getting lost and referring to Alex's map. So we have more thoroughly explored San Jose through the act of buying a car. And spent the last few weekends and week-nights on this.

So, we were looking for:
  • A Japanese-made car
  • 1992 or above
  • few problems that we need to fix! Since neither of us know that much about cars.
  • around the $2K mark
  • 4-door (since we've spent lots of time cramped in other people's 2-door cars - now we can make trips to LA etc)
  • and probably some other stuff that Brendan could tell you
Most of the really good deals were in Oakland, which is right next to San Francisco across a bridge. Given Oakland's distance and dangerous reputation (I think last year the highest number of people were killed - 140. Very sad.), and the fact that at the time neither of us had our licences and couldn't drive back, we didn't really pursue them. You need a car in Oakland, and to look like you aren't lost. Carjackings at lights are apparently very common.

One place we went to was in South San Jose - the dodgy part of town, with Alex. It was next to the Stadium, and teams were practicing on the grass behind the 5m tall link fence. The guy spoke very little English, just Spanish. He took us down the road to where the car was, gave us the car keys, and said "Come back when you're done." The petrol gauge was almost empty, and we wanted to test it on the freeway, but in the end we stopped on the street instead to test it out. Heaps of black oily liquid spurted out of the end when you hit the accelerator, and it had lots of other problems. I called Geoff in NZ (and discovered calls from a US cell to a NZ cell cost $1.00 per minute) but we decided not to get it.

Car selling seems to bring out dodgy people - there was one guy (who barely spoke English - poor Brendan on the phone!) whose car sounded stolen - when asked about the origin of the car, he said, "My friend got it from an impound lot." The man in South San Jose also seemed like he had stolen the car, since he really didn't care about it at all. And when we called a week later about another car, it was a similar story. He seemed like he had people calling to buy cars all the time, and he just wanted to get rid of them by pricing them at low prices.

Another place we went to last weekend, in Alum Rock above San Jose downtown. The guy bought the car for his daughter, but it was very broken and she didn't want it. (I can see why!) Brendan drove it on the freeway, and I drove it back on the main road, but it had (again) lots of stuff wrong like panels needing to be replaced, and bad tyres, things like that. Alum Rock seems to be a wealthy Hispanic area, since the supermarkets had signs in mostly Spanish. I asked a supermarket packer where the sunscreen was, and she only vaguely understood, and answered me in Spanish.

We did go and check out a car yard in Saratoga which always seemed to have good deals (we have now spent a LOT of time in the Saratoga and surrounding areas!). After lots of confusion with map reading, due to the fact that the 280 Freeway on the map is spread over about 20-25 pages, with about half a mile on each page, we finally found it.

We took a '97 Toyota Camry for a drive, and it was very spacious and roomy. The salesman was a jovial American guy who chatted to us during the drive along the freeway about different things, but they wanted $3999 for it which didn't include taxes, and was more than we wanted to spend.

Finally, we found the right car. I'm going to let Brendan talk about our new car, so look out for his pictures. Thanks Alex, for driving us!

Friday, March 23, 2007

my computer is dead once again...

My computer died the other day. I am not amused; in fact now I am highly bored and can't work on my book or organise wedding stuff. With under a motnh to go!

I mean, for a very long time it would restart randomly every time I played a game, but I thought I'd fixed that. (Cleaning out the fans so it didn't overheat.)

But now, it was the power supply - I was sitting on my computer playing a game when it suddenly died. Frantic emails to Brendan later, I changed the power supply to his old one, and it turned on! Kinda. As far as the lights went on, anyway. But still no cigar.

So, last night I ordered a new power supply. I love/ hate this about America: rebates.

The part I hate: NO, we're not going to just charge you less for it. We're going to make you pay full price, and then send in the receipts and the cut-out barcodes and everything else relating to that product, so if you can be bothered doing all that, you will get your rebate. They take advantage of the fact that half the time, you won't care, so they get to keep the money. When we bought a whole pile of new computer parts, *mutters angry thoughts about freight companies and Qantas and broken computers* we had about $100 in rebates. So far, $10 has come back.

But the part I love: sometimes the rebate makes it free, or almost. So what is the point? The power supply I bought last night was $28.00. It had free 3-day shipping (a saving of about $10 or so). The tax was $2.30. The mail-in rebate: $28.00. So, apart from the tax, I essentially just bought a free power supply.

I have my licence!

Yay! I passed... only 5 wrong, which is apparently very good. If you get 15 marks wrong overall, or do something heinous like run a red light or fail to look over your shoulder at your blind spot (both "critical driving errors"), you fail immediately. I had the same tester as Brendan - she was very calm and nice.

I think the main things were: not yielding to a truck on a full green light (it has to be an arrow for you to have right-of-way), acccidentally turning too wide and going over the yellow line, and
apparently not turning my head enough at intersections to look.

Afterwards, my driving instructor asked me to tell him which route we drove. So we drove along for a bit around where we'd been, until we came along a road where a grey car was waiting at a stop sign. The instructor suddenly pulled down the right-hand windscreen blind to cover his other mirror and we swerved into a parking lot - the grey car was taking the test, and he didn't want the tester to see him! (You're not allowed to drive the full route the DMV uses during the day, otherwise it would be clogged with learner-driver cars, and hard for the poor person being tested! And our instructor I think is pretty well known byt the testers.)

Then I thnk I got a bit lost and went down the wrong street into the residental ares, which go round and round and have heaps of dead-ends, so you think you are going somewhere and you are just getting more lost. We shoudl have turned left at the main area. But that was OK. He just wanted to see where we drove so he could tell his other students. Cos there were a few places different from where I had gone with him.

On the way home, he asked me if there were any kangaroos in NZ. Or ostriches. Ummm... no. I explained about kiwis and evil possums. He understood possums.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Presenting... our house!

Here is a link to pictures of our house. Cos I know you're all dying to see where we live and all. Enjoy.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Licences and weddings...

Since Brendan has suddenly become very modest, (strange that...) I am proud to announce that yesterday he got his Californian licence! Yay! I go for mine on Friday (NZ Saturday). He had my instructor instead of his beforehand, which as good as she's way more calm.

I have his instructor before the test, so I will have to concentrate on calmness. (Although he is rapidly becoming 'our' instructor since I've had him about as much as my other instructor now. He's cool. We talk about lots of stuff, and drink McD's coffee when we stop, and try and figure out each others' accents.) Apparently the examiner also gives due warning, and is calm.

Today it is exactly one month until our wedding... happiness and stress. Although technically it's still the 20th here. People like family members who still need to RSVP - You know you're coming, I think you're coming, but please just let me know properly so we can count, OK? Just email Brendan or me. Thanks. :)

If you know anyone in Wellington who wants to house-swap for three weeks for a lovely Californian apartment and sunshine, let us know... although today it rained here for the first time in weeks! I suspect tomorrow will be beautiful again.

Tara has posted a rather hilarious and descriptive account of Thelma and Quint's wedding (with pictures!) on her blog, for whom she was a bridesmaid. These are people I went to high school with... some people haven't changed much! They look very happy. (And I think Tara is mentally stockpiling "not to do's".) Ask me for the URL if you want to perve until I get the OK from her to post it here. I'm pleased it didn't rain during the actual wedding, only during the reception.

Edit: Tara has given me permission to give out the URL for her blog about the wedding: click here.

Monday, March 19, 2007

It's a long way to the mall...

I timed how long it took to walk to the nearest mini-mall, to post some letters. 43 minutes, walking at a normal pace. No wonder it always seems to take forever to get there!

They always have the same shops, or same types of shops. It varies slightly by location and number of shops in teh total area, but you can almost guarantee each one will have:

A coffee or juice shop (Starbucks, Jamba Juice etc)
A large assortment of takeaway shops and donut shops (Taco Bell, Carl Junior's, etc etc ad nauseum)
A Bank of the West or Bank of America
A drugstore (Long's, Rite Aid, Walgreens)
A Fed-ex Kinkos / other post office and printing shop
A Wolf Camera (Why are they so popular?)
A hair salon
A nail salon
A supermarket (e.g. Nob Hill or Albertsons)
And an office supplies depot.

If you're lucky, it will also have an assortment of: a liquor store, a gym, a petrol station (called 76), a clothing shop, a fabric/ craft shop, and "Dollar Tree" (similar to "The $2 Shop" in NZ) which Alex has just discovered, and he and Stefan are in love with. (We haven't been there yet.)

It seems almost every supermarket has a pharmacy, and every pharmacy is almost a supermarket (minus actual fresh food).

Every few blocks , there is another of these mini-malls. Where do the customers come from? Yet they always seem to be busy and well-populated, mostly by 'moms'. I guess there are a lot of moms here in the States with free time.


I am turning slightly American. I say "store" constantly. I had to go back and change all those to 'shop' in this post. Stefan has started gaining American inflections, since he lives with Onita. So have I. Ah well, at least you won't all notice it when we come back. We still speak Kiwi English to each other. And we got Onita to answer to 'jandals', which she swore she would only call 'sandals' or 'flip-flops'.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

The Capitol Markets

We got up bright and early on Saturday to go with Alex to the Capitol market. There are lots of markets in San Jose, but this is apparently one of the larger ones. They had the customary fruits and fewer veges, and what looked like the entire contents of garage sales and pharmacies. Sunglasses and hoodies for sale abounded.

You have to pay $1.25 to get in on a Saturday, but it's cheaper on Thursday and Friday. The vendors were predominantly Spanish so our fledgling Spanish was kinda helpful, but I really wish we were far better! (At least) one vendor tried to rip us off because we weren't local but we didn't buy anything from him.

The site was on a big open-air drive-through cinema. I never realised that the cars all sit on little tiers on the concrete, so the ground zig-zags upwards as you go towards the back of the markets.

Many would offer taste tests of some of their fruits and veges, so naturally we sampled. Quite a few things unexpectedly had chili powder and salt and lemon on them, which we all found a bit spicy! We bought lots of yummy fruit including Ataulfo mangoes, which are smaller and bright yellow all over. Yummy! They're much less juicy but taste similar, so you don't end up as sticky.

The markets also sold papaya, which I hadn't had fresh. I really liked it but Brendan didn't. It has an odd smell - kinda like the tiniest whiff of vomit. Eww. But it doesn't taste like that! They're pretty big - the one we bought was almost 4 pounds (about 1.5 kg I think?).

We also bought a Mexican fruit we had never seen before - a jicama. (Said "hee-carma".) It looks a bit like a turnip, and you cut it open and eat it raw with salt, chili and lemon juice. It's a bit like eating an unripe pear, or a sweeter raw potato. I think we'll skip the condiments for ours.

A Mexican girl also told me how to make a nopalitas cactus salad - they sold big flat cactus leaves. I got spikes in my fingers! Apparently you cut it up and boil it and then serve with tomato, onions and lettuce.

For all the old SNES etc game lovers - old games!!! There were so many - Melanie Swalwell would have loved this (one of my old lecturers at Victoria University doing media research on video games). (Note the adult DVDs tent in the background. Seriously, people sold almost everything.)

Apparently there's a meat market as well, but we drove around for a while and couldn't find that.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Today my ex-boyfriend married my friend...

in the rain. In Masterton. Poor Thelma and Quint. I got a text from Thelma while they were getting ready, and while she had been praying hard all week for sunshine, she said the weather was pretty "yucky".

My friend Tara is one of her bridesmaids, she is also one of my bridesmaids so I can't wait to catch up with them both and see pictures. (And exactly 6 months before our wedding, she was also her friend Jackie's bridesmaid! Busy girl...)

Anyway, I just wanted to record this rather sappy post as I thought about them all day and really wished I could be there, and hoped the weather ended up nicer than they thought it was going to be. I'm fantastically happy for them both as they make a really great couple.

On our wedding front, family dramas have occupied the last while... or rather, one particular family drama. After much thinking and soul-searching, I have decided that I would rather have the family member there and ignore the problems, than be right on principle and not have the family member there. Also I finally had a response from at least one of the people concerned, so hope that is sorted.

In and Out burgers - not really 'in and out'

What other burger company would have only three burgers on their menu: Double-Double, Cheeseburger, and Hamburger? No ketchup, and offer the option of onions in their burgers and unlimited filter coffee? Only offer three kinds of milkshake, and no other dessert?

Only In and Out Burger. (We were by Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco. Brendan and Alex had already bought a whole crab and a crab sandwich respectively, and I wanted something non-fishy.)

In-and-out menu

It certainly was not "in and out" for us as I waited a while for my order to be made - the line mostly consisted of people hungrily watching the burgers the employees were making, and listening carefully to the order numbers being shouted.

However, the chips were nice and resembled home-cooked chips in look and taste (they still had skins on). The burger was made with actually fresh lettuce, and an actual fresh slice of tomato. The only thing is, next time I will not have onions - they were actual slices of uncooked onion, not just a few rings.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Revisiting San Francisco's tourist traps

We went back to San Francisco with Alex. We've decided to save the zoo trip for another time, since Onita got back late the night before and Stefan had her keys... now he's in the doghouse (so to speak) and she's not talking to him. Apparently they had to go shopping (communicated to Stefan via hand signals - he thinks she meant shopping).

(Update: turns out she REALLY is not happy: he ditched her at a party where she knew no-one (except Anita, Duncan's girlfriend), took the house keys so she had to sleep outside her house at 3am, then called her at 5am to ask that she pick him up. Ouch. Hope that sorts itself out OK.)

It was very hot - it was like a typical summer's day in New Zealand. Very hot. We were incredibly lucky with the weather in San Francisco, as it can be very Wellington-like. We still needed the air conditioning though.

Golden Gate Park: where San Franciscans go to walk their dogs. A ratio of 2 people:1 dog. There were dogs everywhere with their owners walking around on the big grassy lawn filled with sunbathing (often topless or tank-topped) people, and vast numbers of interesting (read: weird) people.

One man was rolled in an old quilt on the grass, fast asleep. He looked as if he hadn't bathed for days.

The 'NZ garden' in the Botanic Gardens was small and very young. The oldest-looking plant was a cabbage tree. It also contained many non-New Zealand plants, and squirrels. Everyone loves squirrels...

The big music place and museum was interesting, and I wanted to go to the Japanese Tea Gardens but we had no time. Must go back again!! Alex was fairly keen to get to the Golden Gate Bridge, and I can't say I blame him. I love the Golden Gate Bridge. (Click here for our photos.)

(A funny thing has happened to these photos on webshots: somehow the photos have been put in the category "baby shower" - how? We have absolutely no idea - that is most certainly not what category I put them under! Anyway, it means that suddenly a whole pile of strangers have viewed these photos, since they appear under the label "Golden Gate Bridge Baby Shower", shooting them from one of several thousand collections, to the 24th most popular in that category! Obviosuly a whole pile of people are curious as to what that might be. Miniature babies raining down?)

Celeb sightings: I swear I saw Rachel Bilson with huge sunglasses and a tall dark-haired guy (who wasn't Adam Brody - they broke up) in San Francisco, on Fisherman's Wharf. Unfortunately I only have the picture of their backs, as I thought it might be too rude to take a photo from the front only a metre away.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

End of the Golden Weather New Zealand by the sound of things, but here it's just the start. Spring has arrived! The last few days have been as hot as a New Zealand summer, and we really hope it doesn't get that much hotter here.

The Americans tell us last summer there was a heat wave, and temperatures reached 114* F (45.5*C)!! Onita was travelling to LA, and people couldn't use air conditioning in their cars because their cars were already overheating and breaking down.

Yesterday I went in the swimming pool for the first time. It wasn't too bad, actually, despite the dire warnings from the other interns that it was "always freezing" - and besides, there are two spas to warm up in afterwards.

Last night it was 80* F (27* C) in our house... too hot to sleep.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Parking in San Francisco... the tale of a minor miracle

A small miracle occurred in San Francisco when we found parking. Last time, we cruised the streets for half an hour looking for somewhere to park.

This time, we went around the major parking buildings close to the wharves (all full) before deciding that we were not about to part with $28 for three hours of parking! With several false starts on commercial parking spaces (remember, you need to check ALL signs, curb colours, and stickers on parking machines in the vicinity before parking and discovering you will get towed in a few minutes), suddenly we turned up the street past the "Blue Mermaid" bar, around the corner from Fisherman's Wharf... and there it was - a parking space!

So, we checked the curb for colours - it was concrete-coloured. Tick.
There was a sign saying, "No parking between 10am and 4pm on Thursdays". It was Sunday. Tick.
On the same sign was another notice saying, "No parking between 6am and 6pm every day". It was 6.20 pm. Tick.

There were no parking meters. There were some on the other side of the road. It was FREE! Now this never happens in San Francisco.This seemed too good to be true.

So, we carefully parked. And crossed our fingers. And readjusted our wheels to avoid rolling back into the road should the brakes fail, as required by law in San Francisco and warned by the sign in front of us (as you can apparently get a hefty ticket!).

Just to be sure we asked the people behind us, who had also come to the same conclusion and kindly moved back to give us some space.

We were most relieved to see our car, several hours later, still where we left it. A minor miracle had indeed occurred.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

San Francisco: El Festival de los Hippies

Hippie culture is alive and well, in Golden Gate park, San Francisco.

As we were wandering through the park with Alex, we heard some music (well, drums at least) and assumed there must be a concert. Naturally we went to investigate, and instead found a large grassy field fully of people playing various ball games and/or singing and dancing to an apparentely impromptu band of drummers in the middle of the field. Many of them were topless (no, only the guys sorry), and even more had dreadlocks. None of the many people performing (in addition to the drummers there were people singing and doing acrobatic tricks) were busking, and none of them had any microphones or other equipment, it seemed like they had all just decided that today would be a good day to go practice outside in the park. Everyone not performing seemed happy enough to sit back and oblige.

There was also, of course, the occasional whiff of dope coming from indeterminate locations, but don't let that ruin the image. It was very cool, if not quite my thing.

Near the edge of the park where it met the road, were some 9-11 conspiracy theorists angrily waving signs and shouting. They seemed very happy. They offered us a free DVD and gave us a pamphlet that looked like a dollar bill, although none of us could work out why it was designed to look like a dollar bill. My best guess is that if you wave paper in people faces on the street, they're much more likely to take it if it's green and has numbers on it. It worked for me.


You can see the rest of our photos from the park, including way too many photos of squirrels, here.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Stupid NG driving instructors

...who can't book appointments when I leave a message on their voicemail.

My driving test is now on the 23rd.

Photos of San Jose

Alex (one of the other interns) has put our photos of the other day in central San Jose (say the last bit ten times really fast) on the web for his family to see, so have a look:

I particularly liked the lovely streets with trees down the middle where the light rail goes, and the City Hall part with the big dome.

And yes we will put ours on the web - its just that with a few thousand photos, it takes a while!

Ida - the photo of the sign in the shop windows about red shoes, is for you. It's from Oakridge Mall, the nearest mall to here.

Enjoy :)

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Memory -loss at Rite Aid

I was buying more water at the Rite Aid closest to where we live. The guy who served me is a slightly chubby, well-meaning Chinese guy with floppy black hair, a soft American accent and huge glasses. As he was serving me, he asked, "What language do you speak?"

Slightly taken aback, and looking towards the line forming behind me, I replied, "English." Then I realised that he would have thought I was from England, so I explained, "I'm from New Zealand."He didn't show any signs of recognition, asking "What's it like where you come from?" I said, "Hot. It's summer there so all my friends are at the beach."

Why this is funny (apart from me realising later I had said, "English" in a slightly hurt, 'of course' sort of tone - I mean, who asks "What language do you speak?") is that this particular guy is famous amongst the Kiwis here. Every single time any Kiwi goes to Rite Aid, and it happens at least once or twice a week, he asks the same questions in the same sequence.

"Wow, you have an accent."
Then, "Where are you from?"
Then, "What's it like there?"

No matter how many times you see him, and tell him the answer, he never remembers you.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

How one Firefox extension doubled my productivity

Today at work I accomplished roughly twice as much in the last three hours of the day as did I did for the five hours preceeding it.

Granted, this was partially because two of those five hours were spent in meetings, which are unproductive at the best of times. But the rest of the enhancements were due to a very simple Firefox extension. What does it do? It blocks all the websites I like. In fact, on its own it doesn't even do that. I had to tell it what sites I like so it could stop me from visiting them. Of course I could accomplish the same effect by simply not visiting those sites, but that's so much harder than not being able to visit them. Some might call this self-deception; I prefer to think of it as enforced motivation.

In general motivation isn't an issue, but I've found that when I'm not sure how to approach a task, but also don't want to "jump right in and work it out on the way", I can often start thinking about it and somehow wind up on Digg. A little helpful reminder in the form of a blank page and an error message speeds up the "thinking" process immeasurably.

I also found a handy little program that allows you to save sequences of keystrokes and write them out at certain times (such as when you press a keyboard shortcut). It's great for little things like typing out your username and password, which I can now do with a single shortcut! Yes I know, I'm a geek. And a lazy geek at that.

If your "thinking" also causes you to traverse a large portion of cyberspace, you can get BlockSite for Firefox here, and the AutoHotKey macro recorder is available here.

Why US Immigration is worse than Studylink

Today I finally finally got my letter from Immigration saying my electronic form had been received, so I can get my work permit. It took 11 days, and was supposed to take 7-10.

I'm sure I have to send in more documents to them, and I looked all around the website but I couldn't find exactly what I needed to send in.

So I called Immigration, an already complicated system made more complicated by the fact that everything has to be said again in Spanish. Studylink has nothing on bureaucracy here.

For ages I waited while the blood drained away from my hand and it got tired.... Eventually there was a recorded message, in Spanish naturally. So I waited patiently as the message began to sound increasingly confused, before suddenly realizing that someone was actually talking to me in Spanish.

We went round in circles for a bit, while I tried to figure out her heavy Hispanic accent and she tried to figure out my odd New Zealand one. She asked why I was calling, and I gave her a big long explanation about how I couldn't work out what information I needed to send in. At the end of it, she said, "Could you please repeat that, ma'am, and speak louder and slower." I thought I was speaking reasonably slowly, but I think our phone makes things really quiet.

It turns out I don't need to send anything in unless they send me another letter asking for it. I don't know if that's right somehow, they tell you very clearly there are many more things to send in, so I will get everything ready to take when I get a biometrics appointment sent to me (everything here is all about biometrics, eww). I have no idea about how long that might take.

The worst thing is, that when I asked how long it might take for the California centre to process my work permit, she said they were still processing applications from December! So before they can get to me, they have to get through applications from December, January, and most of February. So it will definitely take at least three months.

*screams and has breakdown on the spot* I want a job!

Monday, March 05, 2007

We're going for our licences!

After my last driving lesson I felt a lot more confident driving around here, and today that was a bit different. I had Brendan's driving instructor instead of mine... He's a lot more neurotic, and keeps on pulling me over to tell me stuff and draw me little maps and things. But I don't mind, it's technical stuff I need to learn. I just felt a lot more neurotic as well.

Today I drove onto the freeway, and we drove along it for about a mile and off at the next exit - yay! The merging was a bit scary, but overall it wasn't as bad as I thought it would be. American drivers (especially those in big SUVs) go crazy on the freeway, swervign in and out of traffic, so I've been a little nervous about that.

We also drove round and round a few parking areas in malls, which was good practice.

The exciting thing: I'm booking my appointment with the DMV right now.

On Saturday (NZ Sunday), I'm having another lesson. But overall, he said he thinks it will only take this last lesson before I can go for my licence, YAY! He said the lesson will be more about driving around the route the DMV uses to test you - right turns, changing lanes, left turns, reversing and parking.

Will let you know how things go. Brendan's at his lesson right now.

Edit: We've now both booked our appointments: Mine's on the 15th of March and Brendan's is on the 19th of March (he has his lesson on Sunday the 18th.) Apparently it's the only time you are allowed to drive around the DMV (to practice the driving route).

Friday, March 02, 2007

Oh decent coffee, where art thou?

Ingrid (the wife of one of the other interns) says the coffee here is nothing like New Zealand. Walmart doesn't sell an actual espresso machine, only percolators similar to the one you'd find in the corner of your office cafeteria. And coffee machines here (like the one in the leasing office) come more as a little bag/tube with a plastic top which you slot into the machine. The machine pours water through the bag into the cup below, and you sprinkle powdered fake-latte-milk-which-froths-chemically into your cup. It doesn't actually taste much like milk. Or coffee, for that matter.

On the bright side, they did have a few sachets of "exotic chai".

However, on closer instpection, decent coffee comes from a little shop next to Rite Aid called "Moonbeams". They put whipped cream in everything though, you have to ask for "no cream". And they don't give out teaspoons.

I also can't buy a decent coffee machine at Walmart. They're all percolators. Yucky. I did manage to find a little 1-cup coffee percolator for at home. You can buy all manner of flavours of coffee beans in the supermarket - "Chocolate black forest raspberry" and "Vanilla hazelnut creme". It smells divine as you walk past.