Sunday, April 27, 2008

Random cultural things....

Funny things I've noticed recently in American culture....

  • Typical Marin Housewife (see my post on Marina Housewives) - she only had one small shopping bag, but she needed the whole trolley to carry it out to the car! Note the car is a status-symbol SUV (what Blaise calls a "cafe tractor"), which likely only gets used to pick up her kids from school. (I saw this in San Rafael, which probably says it all.)
  • Not sure if I've mentioned this before, but Californian women wear huge diamond rocks on their fingers. Five carat diamonds are common.
  • Americans love their (bad) coffee. So much so, that at Walgreens, the coffee is locked up! The tea and Milo-ish drinks are not. I had to go and find a store employee to unlock it just so I could buy the coffee.

  • I eat far too much junk food at my new job, although I usually need it plus copious amounts of coffee, to get through the day. Here is some crazy cheese-in-a-can. It comes out very slowly and tastes like the 'cheddar' cheese you get at McDonalds on your cheeseburger. People squeeze it out to eat on Cheeetos (they look and taste like Twisty chips.)

Friday, April 18, 2008

Introducing... The Fat Kiwi!

Once again we managed to find ourselves in San Rafael, that town in Marin which the guidebook calls "boring" and which is only prestigious in any way (especially for our Cali-girl friend, whose parents live there) because it's right next to San Francisco. It's a very average and unassuming town, in a posh Marin southern-California-looking-with-Spanish-Mission-style-buildings way.

So, why were we in San Rafael? To buy THIS:

The Fat Kiwi: Possibly the Ugliest Van in Existence.

This is The Fat Kiwi: our new campervan for our road trip. A 1979 Dodge Maxivan (yes, not a minivan), which is a four-person campervan. It's hilarious. (Note the falling-off Dodge sign on the front.)

When Brendan initially saw it coming down the road, he burst out laughing. When I saw it coming down the road a few days later, I burst out laughing too. It's rather comic. Brendan, in the manner common to all boys, promptly suggested painting it brown and naming it The Fat Kiwi.

The guy who sold it to us was a hippie web developer who had been working on it as his project, until he bought a boat. He took it up to Burning Man, a huge music and arts festival in the desert in Nevada, where "she was a champ". It had been towed three times in the last month, and was starting to become expensive. (Marin, it seems, has even more draconian parking laws than San Francisco, if that were possible!) He was pleased it was taking on a new life of its own, and showed us how to work half of the little 'quirks' it had.

So, The Fat Kiwi has a sink, working gas stove and (untested) oven, a shower, a toilet, a handbasin, electrical outlets, a couch which converts to a bed and a second fold-out sleeping area over the front. It's very, very dirty. The interior is brown fake wood veneer, hideous yellow carpeting and pale lino or something similar, on the walls. We just need to get the plumbing and electrical systems working!

It is also rather wide, drives like a truck and has a hole in the fuel tank which means you can only put in about quarter of a tank at any one point, or it starts dripping. It's going to be an interesting, but probably slightly expensive, 'project'. It needs a lot of work. A lot of paint. And probably a lot of mechanic (expensive!) time too. Driving it home was an 'interesting' experience.

As we were driving along, Brendan exclaimed, "Hey, there's a Jesus!" I was like, where? as I thought it was a large statue on the hill above us or something. No, here it is....

...Right above the useless rear-view mirror - unless the mirror was intended for parents to keep an eye on wayward kids. It only has two real seats.

The positive/ ironic thing is that we bought this on the same day we learned that our other car has packed up, and no longer has a 4th gear. It's not worth fixing. Although we did discover it's driveable on the freeway if you turn off overdrive. Just not good for fuel economy.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Random Chess...

I had a bit of an adventure today, while I was getting another parking permit. On Market Street near 5th/Powell, every day a large group of homeless people, a few druggies and random other people meet to play chess or gamble. But mostly chess.

So I ended up playing chess with some random guy on the street, and fielding questions about my accent ("hey, yoh've got ahn aaccent... where yoh fram" - no kidding!), moas or the lack of them thereof, Wellington weather and (from the druggie sitting next to me casually rolling what looked suspiciously like a joint) whether New Zealand was next to Amsterdam, whether I had ever been to Amsterdam, what drugs were common in New Zealand and whether New Zealand had the "best weed".

I left as soon as I could.

The guy I played chess with was nice, though, and pointed out all my mistakes nicely and said that if I played one game a day for a few weeks, I'd soon be able to beat most people since I already knew the basic moves and some (very unsophisticated) strategy.

Here is how the board looked afterwards...

(Blaise, this is for your edification entirely. Please refrain from commenting how much I suck at chess. You already know that.)

Monday, April 14, 2008

One sunny day....

This past weekend it has actually been sunny and warm in San Francisco - who would have guessed?! On Saturday and Sunday it hit 30*C/ 86*F, which is apparently some kind of record for this time of year, or maybe just San Francisco in general. Today it's back to the usual freezing cold.

On Sunday we managed to combine days off for the first time in a while, and decided to explore San Francisco a little more. We decided to head off to Baker Beach, just south of the Golden Gate bridge. (Click here to see what people think of this beach on Yelp. Warning: slight "adult themes".) Suffice to say, the north end of Baker Beach is clothing-optional, so naturally we planned to avoid that part of the beach.

So, Google map in hand, we set off. Except our car broke, and kept turning to neutral instead of 3rd gear or above. We only discovered this in earnest when we were trying to drive on the freeway. I had to drive at 25-30 mph in 2nd gear on a stretch of freeway marked at 50! So with a hint of desperation, we turned off at a random exit and found ourselves somewhat lost.

To be clear, we knew we were on 19th Avenue in the Presidio, the main road that heads towards Golden Gate, but not how to get to the beach from there. So, we turned right and started driving. And driving. And driving, until we arrived at something which was a lot of old macrocarpa pines and the hint of rocks and the sea down the hill. And so we arrived at Sutro and the Cliffhouse. But we didn't have the faintest idea where we were at the time.

Brendan ponders - where are we?

Signs on the trail beside us warned to watch out for coyotes. In the middle of a city! The Presidio area is part of Golden Gate National Park, situated on the northeast corner of the city. San Franciscans are remarkably lucky to have so many green spaces in such a small and crowded city - the Presidio is easily twice or three times the size of Golden Gate Park, and just over the bridge the Marin headlands, Muir Woods and beyond are also part of the National Park. All easily accessible and close.

So we wandered down the trail and explored the area. The Cliffhouse restaurant was on the left of us, overlooking the ocean. It has a long and interesting history which I won't go into here. On the hillside, volunteers had planted thousands of (wild) flowers to help restore the area.

Here is the Cliffhouse restaurant and the remains of Sutro Baths. Built by the mayor of the time, Adolph Sutro, the baths were once the pride of San Francisco, and had seven amazing swimming pools! They could be filled using high tide in 1 hour's time! Unfortunately they were destroyed by a fire, like the various incarnations of the Cliffhouse over the years. The one pictured is the third one to exist on the site.

The baths from the other side.

The view down the hillside. Very California-beach-looking. (This is actually a cliff, with sharp black rocks below.)

On the hilltop, there was also an old Army battery, built I think for WWII. It was pretty interesting to walk around.

Brendan decided to walk down onto the ledge below. Here's an overall picture to give some perspective. A foghorn kept blowing at rhythmic intervals.

See, told you it was all sharp black rocks!

Brendan and I explored the gun battery area and Sutro Baths for a bit. The gun battery area was a very wide, large, flat semicircle. Here's Golden Gate Bridge in the background....

(Can you spot where I am compared to the previous photo?)

Finally we decided it was time for lunch, then set off rather misguidedly to find Baker Beach. It appears that half of San Francisco also wanted to be at Baker Beach, so we discovered it somewhat by accident by following all the other cars.

Note the multi-million dollar houses above the beach.

We braved the burning sand over to the water, which was freezing! No-one swims here, even if it wasn't the breeding ground for Great White sharks. It's just too cold.

See the pained expression on my part!


You can see how high the tide gets here - this is low tide. The little dog behind me was earlier being held in the water by the woman, its expression being somewhat, as Brendan put it in LOLCAT-speak (another similar internet joke and explanation - read the excellent explanation), "DO NOT WANT!!!!!!!!!!" It kept trying to run out of the water and the lady kept pulling it back in, poor thing. It must be hard to be a little dog - everything is so much bigger than you!

So, yesterday was a gorgeous day. Today I am cold again.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Great Olympic Let-Down

I joined the crowds of people waiting expectantly at McCovey Cove (corner of King and 3rd Streets, opposite AT&T Park), for their chance to see the Olympic Flame. Thousands of people lined the streets on every side. Red flags waved. The centre of the street was clear, and about 3 metres from the pavement on each side was a line of police. To say there was a massive police presence would be an understatement.

Hundreds more police stood in a line blocking the road to the bridge. Pro-Tibet protesters waved signs and chanted slogans, marching up and down the back of the pavement behind the spectators, Tibetan flags waving. They were countered by Pro-China supporters, waving giant red Chinese flags. A lone man in a Hawaiian shirt carried a sign which said 'Free Hawaiians".

We waited... and waited... after 45 minutes, the police started to receive riot helmets. They were carrying long riot batons. It was scary - people around me debated whether it was going to turn violent, although we weren't that close to the protesters. We waited some more. Policemen (and a few women) marched up and down the street. People chanted. A policewoman handed out muesli bars to all the policemen. The red flags waved.

Police Officer munchies (in the box) - I heard someone say that!

We waited some more. It was 2.10, and the ceremony and run was supposed to start at 1pm. Then a rumour went through the crowd - the relay route had been shifted to Van Ness because of the protesters. I needed to go back to work, so I didn't have time to get over there. I'm really angry. So are a lot of other people - the original newspaper headline was "Switcheroo leaves city fuming". One of my friends waited for 2 hours at the Justin Herman plaza at the Ferry Building, and the torch never showed up. I waited over an hour until I had to be back at work.

The Chinese Government is claiming this was a success, even though they essentially held the march where nobody could see it. The organizers then cut the relay short and packed the torch onto a plane without even a formal goodbye. It was a huge failure, and there are a lot of angry ordinary people now. They effectively cancelled the whole thing "because of the protesters", but everyone else missed out.

Final parting shot.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

The awesomeness of high-tech conventions....

Today I did a few hours of temp work for a company at an information security (read: anti-hacker) tradeshow / convention. Simply put, IT security has a lot of money behind it, so there were lots of big tech names there and even more smaller ones. Compared to MacWorld, which I did a bit of PR at a while ago, there were a lot more "trinket" giveaways, and much more expensive ones at that. MacWorld mostly gave out pens, or obscure Mac-related software. Meh.

This conference was really interesting! Here is a photograph of some of the things I received from running around on the floor for a few hours while working... and accidentally spamming my recruiter....

  • Russian Dolls which fit together - awesome!!
  • Various packets of mints/ cinnamints (eww) (including one with the initials "LPT: Licensed Penetration Tester" which means something perfectly ordinary in security language. Another says "Certified Ethical Hacker")
  • Small keychain bottle of handwash which says "employees please wash hands after using the internet"
  • National Security Agency visitors booth pass - which a few people thought was real!
  • Blue Coat chocolate (navy blue packet)
  • Nokia flashing guitar pin
  • What was once a wooden cube but I can't get it back into the right shape
  • A shortbread bikkie/ cookie saying "Cert" - it looks plastic. Don't know if I would eat it.
  • A purple mini highlighter
  • A badge which flashes
  • Another guitar pin
  • What looks like a ping pong ball on a keychain - it strobes when you turn it on. Don't know why I liked this.
  • A hacky-sack ball in the colour of a baseball
  • A clear bouncing ball which flashes when you bounce it
  • A keylight on a string - I totally need that!
  • A universal remote so I can do sneaky things a la CES like turn off all the TVs in the gym. Now if only I could make the old lady next door's loud early morning TV turn off, that would be awesome!! (Hitachi encouraged me to do it! I blame them!) (Update: we tried. It doesn't work, since you need a direct line of sight for the infrared to work. Oh how I wish, though!)
  • A T-shirt which says "Bad Reputation: Access Denied"

And on this side:
  • Hacking Exposed book
  • NSA notepads
  • Little fan which says in LEDs, "Secure your web apps with Cenzic"
  • White Tshirt
  • Black Dell Tshirt (yes, those blocks are Tshirts!!)
  • Blue-ish toy thing which is a paper-holder, and cleans your keyboard and screen.

I also was given a free (text)book and the author signed it for me! It's called, "HACKING EXPOSED". Someone, somewhere, is paying $100 for this book on their "core requirements" book list in school, I bet. It's surprisingly well-written and non-boring.

The US National Security Association was there, and giving away bags and passes with their logo on it. I got one since it was funny. Someone else said that they had a lot of people mistake it for the real thing!

Plus, everyone and their mother was giving away bags of varying sizes.... That white one was huge! The best one was Juniper, which gave away fantastic canvas tote bags which I am fully going to use. Wish I'd grabbed the Symantec one too. Maybe if I can find them tomorrow....

Brendan models some of the bags.

I am really going to miss the amazing high-tech business atmosphere here in San Francisco, it's so fun and interesting and exciting. There are so many small companies doing new and amazing things, it's like watching history being made.

Update: The next day I ran into one of the Intel founders at this conference, amongst various other people. It's crazy who attends this sort of thing. I also won a $200 Tiffany gift card! (Anyone want to buy it from me?)

In other news, the Olympic Torch is only going to be in San Francisco out of the whole of America, tomorrow. Tonight there were a lot of protests, and they're worried enough since there have been so many protests all over the world to China over Tibet, that they may actually have to cancel the entire Olympic Flame run!! Some people climbed up on GG Bridge....

I am hoping to get down to the Embarcadero to watch it!

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Minor Rant

Since when is it OK to put up signs saying "no parking" on a Saturday morning and then towing 3 hours later?!! I'm sure there's a law about that somewhere.

So, our car got towed because someone needed 3 huge trucks to move into their apartment. It was extremely expensive and included a parking ticket, to add insult to injury. We only just got our residential parking ticket the other day too. :(

Friday, April 04, 2008

Bill and Hill in da house!

Tonight as I got off the bus after work, I wondered about the 3 police cars on the street since it seemed pretty quiet, apart from the double-parked activity at the Fairmont. As Brendan and I walked to the gym at 8, we noticed another police car parked outside the hotel next door with the words "Bomb Squad" on the side.

Turns out Bill and Hillary Clinton are meeting here with the President of Ecuador tonight, according to the two women outside the locked outside door to the gym. On one of the floors on the way to the gym (going the long way around), there is a large white room. In the centre of the room is a very long, narrow table filled with expensive designer handbags, various items of food and other miscellaneous things. I figure they're the coat check. Man, where's the camera when I need it?! (I was too scared to open the doors by the coatcheck.....)

So, Bill and Hillary were, for two hours, in the same building as us. Awesome. Now, if only we'd managed to actually see them.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

How to spot a Marina Housewife

I'm currently working in the Marina district in San Francisco, while I look for a full-time PR role again. The district is very wealthy, so it's fun to people-watch. There are several distinct stereotypes of Marina Housewife. (Note this is probably similar to the Marin Housewife stereotype, where Marin is an extremely wealthy county just across the Golden Gate Bridge with lots of bored, wealthy women having affairs with their pool boys.)


1.) The Stay-at-home Mom.

The Marina is almost entirely populated by stay-at-home mums. They're recognizable by their black yoga capri pants, running shoes /sneakers, and polarfleece jackets. Baseball caps are optional. Sunglasses are mandatory, even inside. Ipod and Louis Vitton handbag/ purse, also mandatory. Children are toted around in a status pram, or in a little wagon with seats. Yes. Really. It can fit two children and one small dog.

2.) The Nanny.

The Nanny is often Hispanic or Chinese, and has a blue-eyed, blonde-haired baby. Otherwise, it can be hard to tell. The test is: if the eye colour and hair colour match, it's the mother. If not, it's the nanny. The Nanny has not much to do all day than look after her charge(s), so she takes the kid(s) shopping. Often she takes her mother along.

3.) The Housewife.

Same exercise-esque outfit as the Stay-At-Home Mom, but without the baby. Often has the small dog though. Wears sunglasses regardless of weather. Mandatory iPod and Louis Vitton purse. When I mention to them, "Oh these pants are great for yoga," they nod approvingly and talk about how they already have about 5 pairs just for yoga. Commonly seen jogging across street when the traffic lights change. Life seems to be all about exercising.

4.) The Jet-Setting Traveller.

Again, mandatory Louis Vitton handbag. Pearls. Fake tan. Is going to Greece next week and totally needs something to wear on the beach. Goes through about 20 pairs of bikinis without finding the right one. Spots the perfect one just as she's leaving the store and asks for it to be put on hold so she can come in again tomorrow and try it all over again.

Two which are not part of the above set, but still very common in the Marina:

5.) The Working Professional.

She wears glasses, heels and red lipstick and talks on her cellphone constantly. She doesn't have time to actually try the clothes on, so simply grabs what she likes then returns them when they don't fit. It's her lunch hour, you see.

6.) The Doting Dad.

The Dad has been dragged into the store (it sells chiefly lingerie) for a male opinion and to look after the kids while the harried housewife mother tries on the clothes. He sits gingerly on the chairs provided as if too much exposure will make him want to wear the clothing. (This also applies to the Boyfriend.)

He is totally oblivious to the wave of destruction the sprog leaves in its wake. He doesn't spot the dangers of glass bottles just above child height, overspritzing of perfumes onto tiny hands, or understand why pulling clothing off every shelf at almost-ground level could be a bad thing - after all, the store assistants have nothing better to do than to talk to his wonderful child all day, right? Yes, sweetie, they are giant dolls. No, you can't dress them up.

Finally the harried mother comes out and snatches away the child from whatever destruction it is currently causing, and distracts it with talk of food.

Optional Accessories:
  • Small cute furry dog. Or large furry dog. The chief part is the furry. But not in handbags - that's just too San Jose/LA tacky.
  • Constant talk on cellphone to friend at all times. The Post Office here actually has a sign which says, "Please refrain from cellphone use during transactions."
  • Surly college-age daughter / older mother to watch and silently judge.
  • Bottle of vitamin water. For the jogging, of course.
In their defense, I must say that most of the women I meet here are absolutely lovely. They're also more financially savvy and actually think about what they're buying, with what, and how much it costs. But, it's hilarious sometimes. Disclaimer: all of the examples are based on a conglomerate of people, and not someone specifically. Except for the example below.

And kudos to the mother who only gives her kids the GameBoys / PSPs when they go out. They sat in a line on the floor of the shop and didn't move or even speak. Fantastic.