San Francisco Part II

Fort Point:

Day 2 began with me finally shaking off a horrible sore throat, the final chapter in the cold that hassled me on the plane. Dad and I jumped up early and headed over to Fort Point, an old military installation built back in the late 1800’s to guard the coastline. It was also used in World War II as part of a submarine net to prevent nastly little subs from sneaking in and wreaking havoc upon the city. Normally, the Fort is open for tourists but unfortunately is currently closed for restoration, so we can’t go in and check it out.

So, we just moseyed around for a while. Fort Point is behind the Golden Gate Bridge on the south side, and offers extraordinary views from that angle. From there, it just looks incredible; the giant span being supported by the amazing array of steel and concrete that you are standing right next to. You can hear the peak hour traffic rattling across the surface of the bridge.

The Presidio:

We didn’t really spend enough time there to fully check it out, but its worth of a separate heading. Maybe more later if we go back. The Presidio is an area of San Francisco that was established over 200 years ago as a military base by a Spanish expedition that arrived from Mexico. After the US won the boringly-named Mexican-American war in 1821, the US Army moved in and stayed there until 1994, at which point the National Park Service took over (I imagine this probably happened peacefully, not in a war-like scenario).

Something that may be of interest is that there is word on the street that George Lucas will be setting up shop in the Presidio, building a giant uber-studio thing. The land value alone there in normal terms would be absolutely enourmous – as a historical attraction though, I can’t even begin to speculate.

Academy of Sciences:

After lunch, we made a family trip to the Academy of Sciences, an old favourite from our first SF venture back in ’84. The Academy was founded back in 1853 primarily to study the surrounding California flora, fauna, geology and anything else worth poking a stick at, putting under a microscope, cutting open, or blowing up. It was originally housed in Market Street, but then the uber-earthquake of 1906 hit and basically destroyed the building and everything in it.

The citizens of San Francisco, flexing the arms of democracy, decided that the Academy should be rebuilt in the Golden Gate Park. It was reopened in 1916, and has spent the time since then going through several upgrades and expansions, including the awesome Steinhart Aquarium.

Anyway, that’s what we did this afternoon. My sore throat thing came back, rendering me useless for a while until I managed to get back to home plate and hit the ice cream.

One of the main things I miss in Australia is chocolate chip icecream. Sure, you can sort of buy some variants of it, but you can’t get anything like you can over here. The best I’ve found so far is Dreyers – they make a huge variety of different ice creams, but I can happily sit down with a human-skull sized container of this stuff and eat the lot of it. Oh – so yummy.

After knocking back a cubic metre or so of this stuff I started to feel human again, and then tried to brave the cold (10 degrees or so) out on the veranda watching a quite spectacular sunset. Too cold though; I ended up back inside and had a quick bash of q3dm17 and laid down the smack .au style (all without using the railgun), and then had to listen to the Americans whine about it.

Kicking back tonight waiting for my grandfather to arrive from LA, then we’re having a roast dinner and probably going to drink some rum or something. Tomorrow – the city!

San Francisco Trip, Part I

The plane trip

Travelling in economy class is quite obviously the worst possible way to get anywhere. Being in a cramped metal tube whilst screaming through the air in the worst possible seats sounds bad from the start, but actually having to experience it is a new kind of hell. Throw in the tail end of a cold (including free sinus slaw) and we’re talking pretty unenjoyable stuff.

Starting in Brisbane, my brother (Stick) and I went through Auckland, which involved a boring hour-long stopover. After that, the lengthy 10-12 hour flight (lost track of the time), which involved us watching four movies which were obviously carefully hand-picked by Qantas staff to try and reduce us to unconsciousness in as short a time as possible. Fortunately, I removed the headphones and jerked my eyes away before becoming catatonic, and starting reading my new book (Darwin’s Radio, by Greg Bear). About 4 hours later, I’d finished it, and then slept for a few hours.

Eventually, we arrived at LAX, which then involved the usual pain-in-the-ass immigration thing where we had to line up and go through customs. Fortunately, the canned passionfruit we had in my brother’s bag wasn’t deemed worthy of requiring an additional cavity search (“no, the guy with the rubber glove was suprisingly gentle”) and we fought our way though thousands of other Christmas holidayers through the major west coast entrypoint to the USA.

Found our way to American Airlines, then an hour or so later, we were on our way to San Francisco. I promptly passed out on the flight, then awoke just before we started descent into SF. By this time I was fairly dehydrated, my sinus were about to cause my head to explode in style, I was cramped and sore and I was already counting my pennies to try and organise business class on the way back.

Touched down in SF, did the bags thing and luckily my parents were at the right airport, so we then drove back to my uncle/aunt’s place in Pacifica (about 40 minutes drive south of the city on the coast).

Sunday: Day 1:

A lot of Day 1 was spent recovering and chilling out, but we also had a trip into the Golden Gate Park, a giant splotch of greenery in the middle of the inner Bay Area. We drove around for a while and sussed out some of the old family haunting grounds like Spreckles Lake (where a lot of SF’ers go of a weekend to take their remote control boats for a spin). Basically, we spent the time doing a bit of recon as we tried to decide which places we wanted to heavily strafe with our tourism cannon, which worked out well – got a glimpse of everything to whet the appetite and also planned future parts of the trip.

During this time, I’d been catching tantalising glimpses of what I really wanted to see on this trip – the Golden Gate Bridge. Teasingly visible from high points on the freeway, the giant gaudy structure stands out as a major attraction for me and many others. Its often seen on promotional stuff for the USA – just like the Statue of Liberty, its was quite often the first thing people saw when they came to this country.

Though it was getting dark and cold, we decided to head over for a pre-emptive look at the bridge. Heading down to Baker’s Beach and watching the Bridge swing into focus for the first time in its entirety is a pretty awesome site. Open since 1937, the 1.2km-long bridge is painted in “International Orange” as a complement to its surrounding environment and also to provide greater visibility through San Francisco’s famous soup-like fogs that frequently roll in from the Pacific Ocean to coat the city and Bay in a visually impenetrable white.

The Bridge is one of the few places that I can go to and just sit there and look at it and be happy for no other reason that being there. The scenery is stunning from any angle. I’ve tried to take some good photos of it, but I fear nothing on the screen or on paper will ever do it justice. I’m insanely jealous of the people that live here and have it as just part of their surroundings.

The rest of the scenery is pretty spectacular as well – driving home along the Great Highway, you’re driving practically along a stretch of beach looking out over the Pacific. Watching the sun set through the fine fog gives amazing sunsets with really rich colours. And its just interesting to watch the sun set over the ocean – not something you see very often in east coast Australia.

Safeway:

Another phenomenon over here which is somewhat more consumer-oriented is the Safeway miracle. If you’re in Melbourne or maybe Sydney (one of those heather mexican states in .au) you’ll know what they are, but for the QLD’ers, Safeway is basically a Coles/Woolworths thing. However, over here, its been shot up with steroids to the point where its busting at the seams. The one we went to, randomly chosen out of the sample population was awesome. Included in the actual shop is a bank – open til 7pm EVERY NIGHT OF THE WEEK. Oh, the shop itself is open incredibly long hours (still trying to find out if its 24hours or not).

The range of stuff in there is amazing. They sell alcohol, as well – not just Bud, either – they probably had a bigger range of beer than most bottleshops in .au – including the obligatory box of Fosters. The range of icecream and cookies is awesome as well – two things that you seriously can’t get good implementations of over in Australia.

More to come!

Poor little smashed car

Well, I was in my first ever proper accident today – I was sitting at the lights, minding my own business, when BAM! I was smacked from behind by a lady in a Camry. One minute I’m sitting there, gazing idly out the window at a red light, and the next second there’s this enourmous noise, there’s shit flying everywhere around the inside of my car, I’m looking around going “huh?”. There was a second pause, as my car was knocked forward by the impact, then another big crash as her momentum carried her again into my car.

So, needless to say, my car is somewhat a playground of twisted metal and plastic at the moment. Hopefully she’s insured properly, and more hopefully the car is written off so I can buy a new uber one.

I felt tremendously sorry for the poor lady, she felt so bad and was really shaken up; I was freaked out after I got out of the car for a minute, then realised that it was a better excuse to be late for work than the one I was planning on using anyway.

QGL Finals

Phwoar, its been a long time since the last update. Basically because I, along with the rest of the admins, have been busy doing the QGL Finals. To sum up, it went unbelievably well. It seems everyone had an awesome time, and mad props to all the gamers who put in the hard yards over the season and managed to take home the prizes. Big thanks to everyone that helped on the day.

There were a few minor problems – some on Saturday morning with the power, caused (as usual) by people plugging in their own power boards. The worst thing was on Saturday night when the security guard called me at 11:45pm and said we all had to get out of there by midnight. With 80 odd gamers in the hall, this was obviously a bit of a problem, made worse by an awesome headache. Fortunately, I was able to convince the security guard (a totally top bloke) after much wheeling and dealing that unless we could all stay, I’d have to drive everyone home myself. Which would have, needless to say, sucked.

Anyway, it all worked out, and it ended up awesome. Even madder props to the Max and j0r guys, who put on some tremendous displays of both ability and good sportsmanship, something that is a rare combination in the world of computer gaming.

RE Session, Part.. uh.. Large number

Another session at the RE. Nova’s birthday this time, like we needed an excuse to go there. Another one of the “get slightly too drunk before having to go to work and get miserable sessions” this time; there’s too many of them happening. I’ve been sick for the last 3 days straight though, so it was great to finally get the hell out of the house. Caught up with some people I haven’t seen in a while, so I guess it was worth it (yeh, I’m trying to justify being this drunk – damn you b2 for making me drink all that cursed rum).

Looking forward to work tomorrow. Bed time.

Scream 3

Wasn’t two enough? Actually, wasn’t one enough? The first movie in this trilogy I really enjoyed, but I think the later two were fairly simple attempts to cash in on the success of the first. There was no real flow between them all; it just seemed like the plots were tacked together.

Anyway, Neve Campbell is back as the luckless Sidney, once again being chased all around by a dude in a black cloak and white mask with a giant knife. The other guys are back, Dewey the goofy (ex)cop, and Gale the reporter, plus a stack of new people who, invariably, turn out to be nothing more than stab-ees.

Typical story, they run around for a while with people dying at the hands of the murderer and noone knows who it is. However, there IS a cool cameo. Unlike the other Screams, which amusingly take the piss out of themselves with respect to the stupid things that people do in horror movies, this one.. doesn’t. It makes a passing comment about how in the final in a trilogy, all bets are off, as if this gives it a license to stupidity.

Everyone is fairly boring. Neve walks around with tears in her eyes, and there’s this totally ironic scene. Because I don’t want to ruin it for you in case you (‘re lucky enough to) haven’t seen this movie yet, I’ll give you three clues: Courtney Cox-ARQUETTE, David ARQUETTE, and a wedding ring. IT WILL BLOW YOU AWAY WITH SURPRISE.

There are no interesting special effects in this movie. The makeup and costumes are also boring – unless you like long, flowing black robes, in which case you might be pleasantly surprised. Courtney Cox obviously got shafted in this movie with a trailer with no mirror, otherwise she might have noticed how horrible her hair looked. David Arquette featured, again, a mustache that looked like a small furry worm had crawled out of his nose and was lodging there. The other characters sported several other defects, which were too boring for me to remember.

For the guys – this movie has a shower scene, a towel dropping scene, miscellaneous cleavage scenes, but that is about it. Oh yeh, that’s right – its a family movie. That means NO TITS (not that I really care). However, we can stab, maim, shoot, bleed and swear all over the joint, because this movie is designed for kiddies.

Verdict: See this movie if you are, like I was, sick and bored and there was nothing else at the video shop that you haven’t seen 1200 times already. I’m glad I missed this on the big screen. Get Scream instead again. Forget this exists.

Why didn’t Sidney just move to Australia, or some other country where the killer would never, ever find her? Why is it so hard to NOT get killed in American movies?

Romeo Must Die

Ahh, kung fu. It didn’t have Jackie Chan, but after seeing Jet Li being a total badass in Lethal Weapon 4, I thought I’d give it a go. This is going to be a short review, because it was a pretty simple movie. Some basic racist/gang war overtones on a simple story of family vengeance.

Jet Li plays a mildly boring dude that escapes (easily, because he’s a ninja) from a Hong Kong prison to avenge the death of his brother. He gets mixed up in a gang war between a bunch of people who are trying to do something involving NFL, in a plot that is loosely tied together with gunfire and some weird kung fu stuff.

I’m by no means a martial arts afficionado – I enjoy it heaps, but haven’t spent a lot of time watching it. However, there was a somewhat excessive use of wire fighting in this, which had Jet Li and others pulling off what, in my humble opinion, were just stupid-looking moves. There were some nice choreographed scenes, but overall.. yawn.

Verdict: yawn. A nice no-brainer if you’re up for it, but stick with Lethal Weapon 4 if all you’re after is Jet Li.

Sphere

I’d been meaning to see this movie for quite some time. A big Michael Crichton fan, I was actually quite terrified whilst reading Sphere; typically Crichton it was well written with interesting characters and a detailed plot.

The movie annoyed me right at the outset, with an overly theatrical introduction piece before actually getting to anything. Blah, bad impression. Anyway, after it started, things started to pick up. Unfortunately, this movie was at a disadvantage by default, because it was trying to make something out of a book. I’m always disappointed when this happens – there’s just too much stuff that happens in books to fit in a 2 hour movie.

The actors that were chosen to play the relevant book characters were pretty decent. Samuel L. Jackson in particular was good in his role as the arrogant mathematician Harry. The development of the characters was pretty hurried, but you still got a pretty decent idea of why they were all there.

The movie was an interesting combination of “made for TV” and pretending to be a book, divided into several “chapters”. This didn’t really do anything great for it, but didn’t detract too much, so I sorta just accepted it, and moved on. A few nice underwater special effects – I was annoyed, however, at the lack of a giant squid.

To cut a long, boring story somewhat short… overall, the movie was average. It was watchable, preferably if you hadn’t read the book first. However, it did do a pretty good job of trying to cram in all the things that happened in the book. It left off the sneaky (aka, typically female) Beth bit at the end though, dammit.

Verdict: see it, if you’re bored. If you’re not that bored, get out Abyss instead, its got Michael Biehn and more guns and aliens and stuff.

Melbourne Trip

Just got back from my road trip to Melbourne. One of my good friends was moving back there, and me being a crazy person decided that I didn’t want her to have to drive back the whole way by herself, so I offered to go with her. Driving 20 hours non-stop, it was a pretty slawful journey, but we somehow managed to make it. Interesting things that happened along the way were:

  • It rained all through the night, making driving an extreme pain in the ass
  • The highbeams stopped working properly, at one point taking out all the nights together – in the middle of night, while it was pissing with rain.
  • Watching the awesome highways twisting and turning to provide the least straight route possible (the addition of a bunch of 90 degree turns in the road was also awesome)
  • Accidentally driving 70km out of the way, and having to backtrack
  • Being in a car so stuffed with stuff that the seats couldn’t be put back and made comfortable

Aside from that, it was actually a decent trip. However, the 2 hour flight back seemed, for some reason, to be a lot more bearable. Probably more so for Sandie, who didn’t have to listen to me bitch the whole time about it, hah.

I now have new respect for truck drivers and their ilk – we passed literally hundreds of trucks delivering goods up and down the east coast, presumably providing the things that we buy in shops every day. Driving those sort of distances on a regular basis would not be my idea of a stress-free job.

Neal Stephenson’s ‘In the Beginning…’

Here’s a great short piece of work by Neal Stephenson, author of some of my favourite books. The piece is called In the Beginning was the Command Line, and is a great read in Stephenson’s awesome writing style about today’s operating systems and their evolution.

If you’ve never read a Stephenson book – go and do it, now. Snow Crash will rock you world, and his latest one, Cryptonomicon, is one of the best things I’ve ever read – awesome story, excellent settings – even the cover rocks.

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