Sunday 30 October 2011

Halloween: where have you been all my life?

I knew I liked Halloween from the last time I was in the US, but this time around we were better prepared, and also had a child to inflict cute costumes on. I'm disappointed Australia doesn't do Halloween like the US, it would have been so much fun as a kid.

Here it was a multi-week extravaganza of visiting pumpkin patches and costume parties, but I'll sum it all up in the one post. We went to no fewer than 7 different events, so our costumes got a good workout. Work put on two separate events: one for kids and one for adults so as to separate the facepainting and candy from the slutty costumes and alcohol.

We carved two pumpkins

and saw lots more in 'pumpkin patches', which are basically fairs with rides, corn mazes etc. The one we went to would have had a few thousand people visiting on the weekends in October.

Work had a Halloween-style petting zoo complete with maggots eating a rotting pumpkin and tons of snakes

Cake played at the work Halloween party

We handed out a heap of candy to very cute kids in costume, who had been very well trained by their parents to only take one piece each(!) We went for a spin around the neighbourhood to see the ridiculous lengths people had gone to with decorations, including a haunted driveway horror house, a 'crashed' car with smoke pouring out of the bonnet, and all manner of inflatable skeletons, strobe lighting, graves etc.

see flickr for more photos. We won the costume competition at our parents group with our Incredible family, and had random people taking photos of us at the work party :)

Friday 14 October 2011

Sailing at Berkeley: boats are surprisingly responsive during turns...

Adam had a spare pass for an intro to sailing experience at the sailing school at Berkeley, so I got a guernsey and we went out on the water in our waterproof yellow gear.
It was good fun: we learnt about some sailing basics and I got a turn at steering the boat through a couple of tacks. I managed to put one side of the boat underwater by turning too far during one tack, which proved exciting for Adam since he almost got swamped. He also got better acquainted with the woman who was sitting opposite when she landed in his lap. Imagine this photo but with a more drastic slant...
It was good fun, although it was pretty much an ad for their sailing courses. I like the idea of sailing, and according to our instructor San Francisco Bay and Sydney Harbour are the two best places to sail in the world. Getting qualified through OCSC to take a boat out on your own costs on the order of $2k, but it sounds like you get a top notch education.

Afterwards we had lunch in Berkeley and took a stroll through the uni campus.

Saturday 8 October 2011

Biggest monopoly: just not that big

The biggest monopoly board in the world is in San Jose. Someone should really build a bigger one, this one isn't that impressive.

Sunday 11 September 2011

NYC: big city, small baby

Wow, long time no posts. I'll try and do some catching up. Back in September we took E on her first plane trip to New York City where I was travelling for work. The six hour flight went pretty well, although it was a lot more work with a baby: Em and I basically didn't get any sleep and were constantly feeding, changing, holding etc. The amount of luggage also seemed ridiculous for one tiny person: we took 4 bags, a car seat and a stroller to the gate and checked two more bags. We were originally planning to have her on our laps but ended up buying a separate seat, and that turned out to be a very good move.

The weather was terrible in NYC so we bought a rain cover for the stroller on the first day. We had done most of the standard NYC tourist stuff on previous visits, so we took it a bit easier. We watched some volleyball in central park, and went out for dinner in Greenwich Village a couple of times. It happened to be Fashion Week, so all the fancy clothes stores in the village were converted into little bars jam-packed with fasionistas downing drinks and looking at handbags while listening to a DJ. There were also some very convincing people made up as manikins for the display windows.

Probably the coolest thing we saw was the highline, an old elevated railway that has been converted into a pretty amazing park. It has really transformed what used to be a fairly dodgy area. There were heaps of people walking through the park: the first person who buys up some of the abandoned warehouse space the park passes through and builds a bar/cafe/restaurant is going to make a killing. There are also plans for a lowline park.

We also tried to go to the Tennis US Open, and got the subway all the way out to Flushing Meadows only to find that all general admission tickets were sold out (a fact that wasn't available on the website). I have to admit to being fairly nervous about being in NYC, travelling on the subway, and flying, all on the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, but thankfully it passed without incident. I'm pretty sure I saw an undercover cop taking photos of some food vans near our hotel a few blocks from times square...

Wednesday 6 July 2011

Random images from silicon valley

Stormtroopers will seriously turn up to anything.  In this case, a school fundraiser

Roller disco, Golden Gate Park, San Francisco

Apple store being mobbed after the release of the iPad 2

Church marketing for nerds

Saturday 28 May 2011

Maker Faire 2011

Last weekend I joined every nerd in the entire bay area to marvel at the gadgets and creativity on display at the Maker Faire.  My absolute favourite was the guys from ArcAttack playing the Dr. Who theme song with two giant tesla coils while a couple of kids cowered in a Faraday cage...trying not to touch the sides.  BBC take note, these guys should be doing the theme song for the next season :)

My video didn't work out, but someone else took one of them doing the same thing on the last day with Adam Savage in the cage (they were also at the faire last year with a Faraday suit!):

Probably second best was the robots gratuitously destroying washing machines:

There was heaps of cool stuff for kids, including lots of fairly dangerous looking rides and bikes that required you to sign a "I won't sue you if my child dies" waiver.  There was also lots of burning-man-esque art (think lots of propane) and plenty of steampunk.

Lego Car

Create your very own Han-Solo-in-carbonite-style 3D print from a Kinect-recorded 3D model of yourself!

For a bike-powered concert there were a number of suspicious cables leading from a powerbox to the stage....

Bike axle attached off-centre so you sort of jumped up and down on the platform to make it go.  Very cool.

We need one of these for the office

Giant wall of push-lights = awesome babysitter

And some more videos! This was some sort of device to lure kids in, then crush them with giant boulders:

Play Guitar Hero...with Fire! Each input on the guitar was hooked to a propane flamethrower.

This swing was supposed to shut off the water to create a dry window for you to swing through. It was mostly working, but those kids were still pretty wet...

Wednesday 20 April 2011

Team Offsite

Step 1.  Assemble Nerds
Step 2.  Shoot AR15s

Wednesday 30 March 2011

Emily Dickinson - bringing creepy to the kindle

I bought a kindle, which is awesome by the way. While it is sleeping it has a set of famous author portraits and other pictures it displays as a sort of screen saver.

Does anyone else think the picture of Emily Dickinson is particularly creepy?  Have any fellow kindle owners woken in the middle of the night to find this staring at you from your bedside table? There is definitely something of 'the ring' about her, or at the very least she has a Mona Lisa follow-you-around-the-room kind of stare.

Monday 21 March 2011

The apple and grape juices on these shelves contain lead

Today at the supermarket, as I was picking up my usual 2 quarts of Mott's apple juice, I was confronted with this sign.

WTF?  If it has lead in it, TAKE IT OFF THE SHELF.  Don't just put up a little sign that I'm unlikely to read anyway.  Or better yet, how about making apple juice without lead in it in the first place?

It turns out that this ridiculous warning is the product of a similarly ridiculous piece of legislation voted in by Californians in 1986.  While the intent is good - to notify people of unsafe chemicals they are exposed to - the execution is pretty poor.  The FAQ will tell you that just because a product carries a warning, doesn't mean it is unsafe.  In fact, as the FAQ points out, since there are no reporting requirements on companies the state government can't tell you why a company has chosen to make a declaration, or indeed tell you anything useful such as, for which chemical, how long, and at what level.

Take my apple juice.  A warning needs to be posted unless exposure is low enough to pose no significant risk, which (for cancer causing chemicals) is defined as:
the level of exposure that would result in not more than one excess case of cancer in 100,000 individuals exposed to the chemical over a 70-year lifetime. In other words, a person exposed to the chemical at the “no significant risk level” for 70 years would not have more than a “one in 100,000” chance of developing cancer as a result of that exposure.
This statement seems full of holes, which is probably why the law has made shady lawyers a lot of money.  What does 70 years of exposure mean for apple juice anyway?  A glass a day?  A gallon a day?

It is very common for Californian apartment garages to have a declaration due to the chemicals present in car exhaust.  This is the one on ours - scary huh?

I suspect the levels of chemicals would only be harmful if you lived in the garage for 70 years.  But who knows?  The law says the apartment owners should be able to tell you, but they just put the sign up so they don't get sued.

In any case, I'm more happy ignoring this sign on the garage than on my apple juice.  Labelling law FAIL.

Tuesday 8 March 2011

R|Evolution: where the very very recent past goes to be ogled by nerds

We took Em's dad to the Silicon Valley Computer History museum, which is a stone's throw from the Googleplex.  It is a very well presented exhibition, and covers 2000 year of computing history from the abacus to the present day.  We spent 4 hours there and I still felt like I skipped over a lot of things!

Nerds love to have conversations about the 'ancient' hardware they played games on when they were young.  I certainly wasn't around when the only reason companies could think of to have a computer at home was to store recipes:

But I did spend a lot of time playing platform games on a monochrome orange screen of an Osbourne 'portable' computer similar to this one:

And the gaming section was particularly awesome - computer progress is moving forward so fast the very recent past is now immortalised in the museum.

I hope they have plenty of room to expand...

Monday 28 February 2011

I know why BART is so expensive

They blew all their money on cones.  Now I totally understand why San Francisco Airport to Millbrae, which is a one-stop 4 minute ride, costs $4.00.

Quintessential San Francisco

The Haight
The Alamo Square 'Painted Ladies'
The unexpected but very cool Alamo Square shoe garden
De Young museum, Golden Gate Park

Point Lobos, Carmel, Monterey

We drove Em's dad down to his conference at Monterey, and while we were there did some sightseeing.  We grabbed a coffee and a pastry at Carmel-by-the-Sea aka Rich-people-retired-with-handbag-dogs-by-the-Sea and kept going down to Pt. Lobos for some easy hiking.

View Larger Map

We saw some great coastal scenery, a bunch of whale spouts out on the horizon, sea lions, heaps of ropey kelp, and a huge pod of dolphins.

All the little dots in this picture are dolphins, there must have been more than 50

After delivering Tony to his conference we walked along Cannery Row, of John Steinbeck fame. The coastal scenery around Monterey is impressive, and I seem to remember the aquarium is quite good, but I'd give Cannery Row a miss. It is a nasty tourist trap - very similar to San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf.

Friday 18 February 2011

ThinkGeek schwag

Thanks to everyone back home for my ThinkGeek voucher.  Here's what I got!

Charging grass (a bed to hide charging cords for our new android family);

a sweet T-shirt; and

a handy keyring multi-tool that slips over a key.