Found 40 blog posts for the year: 2011

My Year in a Nutshell

Another one of my end of year summaries.


Missing Auckland

I often get asked if I would move back (or when I'm moving back) to Auckland for work. A few months ago, I thought about how hard it would be to leave what I have now - a good job, great friends, a good flat and flatmate, 15 minutes to anywhere in town, badminton on Saturdays, Strawberry Fare - and many other things. I thought about how awkward it would be if I went back to Auckland, but only because I hadn't been back since Easter and it felt like I'd drifted apart from people. I know I complain a lot about Wellington, especially about the weather and the lack of good Asian food, but the city is neat and compact, it has character and most importantly, after 4 years, it's finally feeling more like home.

I was in Auckland last weekend for a friend's wedding (I missed that big 5.7 earthquake too). Two of my other friends at the wedding were in a similar situation to me - they felt like they'd drifted apart from various people there and were wondering if it was going to be awkward seeing them again after so long. But it wasn't. We just slotted back in naturally and it felt like nothing had changed. It felt good. It was good to be reminded that strong friendships endure time and distance, and for that I'm thankful.

The wedding was amazing. The bride was an hour late - I know it's the norm for brides to be late to a wedding but Jo has never been known for her punctuality anyway, so it was a compounding effect. The ceremony was nice and the food was delicious. Jo had set up a candy bar for people to take away a sweet reminder of the day - such a great idea! I want a candy bar at my wedding. After cleaning up the church, we went to the reception restaurant to begin preparations for the night's dinner.

And what a dinner. Buffet style, unlimited oysters. I had 10! No regrets. The seafood was fresh and juicy, the roast pork, chicken and beef were sumptuous and the salads were light and refreshing. There was two different kinds of cheesecake for dessert - one was lemon, the other was some kind of chocolate concotion, I think. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but it tasted like there was some kind of berry flavour. In any case, I was lucky I didn't overeat because it was time to break it out on the dance floor. Party rock - whoo!

I caught up with my school mates at Sun World for yum cha. And again, there was no awkwardness (apart from the natural awkward aura that Tom provides) - we just chatted like old times. Food was top notch as usual. We went our separate ways and I went to catch up with my sister. I haven't seen my nephew in so long - he's grown so much and he is still absolutely adorable. He's a bouncy baby and smiles back at you when you smile at him. It was so cute when he tried to grab the cat - I feel sorry for the poor cat, as my nephew is just clutching whatever his little hands can grip: whiskers, ears, fur, tail!

My flight was quite late so my parents and I went out for dinner at KK with some relatives who were visiting from Brisbane. I hadn't seen them in around 10 years and I was shocked to see how much the three girls had grown. I wouldn't have been able to recognise them in the street. It was good to see them again and of course, the food really hit the spot. Why can't we get nice things like that in Wellington!?

Photos from this brief but very enjoyable trip to Auckland in the gallery.


World Cup Finals

It's a sunny and peaceful Monday morning, the morning after the Rugby World Cup 2011 finals match. I think the nation sighed a collective sigh of relief last night, which erupted into jubilance and excitement as thousands of people streamed onto the city streets, partying loud and hard into the early hours of the morning - some probably still going as I type. It was amazing.

The day started out kinda poorly for me. I was aiming to get to church but I've been sniffly for the past few days and wasn't feeling great at all. I was quite lethargic throughout the afternoon, but had enough energy to beat the last boss in Final Fantasy X-2 (and no, the story isn't over, it's New Game+ time!). I was about to doze off for a nap before hitting the fanzone when Jono texted, trying to arrange some board games before meeting up. We ended up playing Forbidden Island for a while before donning our black attire and heading into town.

Our original plan was to try and get a table at Mac's Brewery but it seems a lot of other people had the same idea. We eventually settled for Electric Avenue - cheap food, cheap drinks, a table right in front of the TV and direct access to Courtenay Place for the ensuing mayhem - if we win then that's great, if we lose, then we can go looting, said Jono. We killed around three hours there, eating and playing card games. By the time 8.30pm rolled about, the bar was packed and we knew the atmosphere was going to be awesome.

I remember seeing aerial footage of the All Blacks bus arriving at Eden Park, and hundreds of people lining the streets to cheer the All Blacks on. As the team stood in the corridor, waiting to enter the field, everyone began applauding and cheering. Despite being so far from the action, we all knew that our hearts were there with everyone at Eden Park, united in spirit to cheer on the All Blacks. We all joined in with our voices as the national anthem played, and again the emphatic applause and cheering after the haka. Who could have realised what a thrilling game was ahead...

Emotions ran high and low throughout the game. We celebrated our only try. We anguished over Cruden's injury. We gasped in terror as Dusautoir crossed the line. I'm pretty sure I was close to this around 70 minutes:
(╯□)╯︵ ┻━┻
As the clock continued ticking, we held on to hope that we'd be able to defend just that bit longer. A score of 8 - 7 to the All Blacks could have easily become 10 - 8 to France if they got close enough for a dropgoal or if they got a penalty.

At five minutes to go, the crowd at Electric Avenue began chanting, willing the All Blacks to keep their defense strong. Anxiety was slightly relieved as we turned the ball over and began an attack on the French. With ten seconds on the clock to go, I started a countdown, to be joined by everyone around me, everyone holding their breath and waiting for that last play to finish. At the final whistle, a thunderous roar of approval echoed through the room as we celebrated a close win over the French. People jumped and threw their hands up in the air, we screamed and shouted and high-fived. We hugged and fist-pumped. It's been 24 long years and 2011 is the new 1987.

The same enthusiastic applause and cheering continued while the presentation began, with the volume peaking when Richie McCaw, Piri Weepu, Dan Carter and Graham Henry all received their medals. As Richie took center stage, the whole country must have risen to their feet and yelled in approval as he lifted the Webb Ellis Cup in victory.



We took to Courtenay Place shortly after, joining thousands of people arriving from all over the city to sing and dance and shout. Crowds had gathered around drummers and street musicians. People were still proudly waving their black flags and banners of support. I've never seen so many people in Wellington (probably because I don't go out for the Sevens Weekend). What an awesome night. Gallery pictures available here. Congratulations to the All Blacks - you've done the country proud.


A World of Real Emotion

Yesterday I completed Final Fantasy X after spending 141 hours on it. I defeated Penance and Nemesis, maxed almost all my stats and got all the Celestial Weapons, Crests and Sigils (I hate you, Chocobo Races). The ending was still as poignant and emotional as it was when I played FFX 10 years ago.

My strategy for Penance:

  • I used Yuna, Kimahri and Rikku. Using Yuna was a mistake because Nirvana deals damage based on her MP and Penance's Immolation attack does heavy MP damage. I should have used someone with Counter Attack, like Auron.
  • Rikku and Yuna had Dispel and Quick Pockets, Rikku and Kimahri had Use. All three had Quick Hit.
  • Everyone had max stats except for Luck, and HP above 50000. Luck was at 89.
  • Yuna's armour had Break HP Limit, Auto Haste, Auto Protect and Ribbon. Kimahri and Rikku had Break HP Limit, Auto Haste, Auto Protect and Auto Potion.
  • When the battle started, Rikku Mixed Ultra NulAll, which additionally provides the effect of five Cheers, reducing physical damage from Obliteration. The next turn, she used Three Stars to reduce the party's MP cost to zero. All this time, Kimahri and Yuna Quick Hit the arms to prevent them from attacking. During the entire battle, the only time the arms got to attack was once when the Left Arm cast Slowga, which Auto Haste protects against.
  • When my HP got low, Rikku's Overdrive (Comrade mode) had already recharged, so I Mixed Trio of 9999, which lets Potions heal for 9999. I Quick Pocket some Mega Potions with Yuna and get Rikku to use a Stamina Tonic to boost the party's HP to 99999.
  • While there are no arms, I attacked the main body. After three million HP, Penance loses its tail and gains Haste which I dispelled using a Purifying Salt.
  • In its new form, Penance uses Immolation which deals around 7000 damage with Ultra NulAll and Protect, but also causes Full Break and 999MP damage. I got Yuna to cast Dispel on the affected character and continue Quick Hitting the arms or the body as necessary.
  • When Rikku and Kimahri dropped below 50000 HP, Auto Potion triggered for 9999 HP recovery, meaning Immolation can never kill them as long as Full Break is dispelled.
  • When Yuna drops below 50000 HP, I get her to Quick Pocket some Potions or Mega Potions to heal the whole party. Occasionally I give her a Turbo Ether so she can cause 99999 damage with Quick Hit, but generally you can just keep her hitting the arms.
  • Immolation triggers Kimahri's Counter Attack, so I get a free 99999 damage every so often.
  • Eventually after a total of 12 million HP damage, you get this:




Anyway, I managed to catch the All Blacks vs France game as well. Fantastic game, though a bit of a nervous start. Congratulations to Richie McCaw on his 100th game for the All Blacks, and hopefully he can lead us to victory.

We better bloody win.

And finally, today I went to see the Lion King in 3D. The 3D was not intrusive or overly noticeable at times, which was great, but more importantly, all the things which makes the Lion King so awesome remained intact. The magnificent score, the songs, the humour, the dialogue... amazing. Brought a tear to my eye :P

So now that FFX is done and dusted... I guess it's time to get my X-2 on. What can I do for you!?


Rugby World Cup

So yeah, okay, blog post mentioning the World Cup. My wall on Facebook is filled with RWC-related hate and excitement, and it was abuzz about it even before the opening ceremony had started. I saw bits of the fireworks on television last night - they looked really amazing and I wish I was there to see it live. I did, however, catch the game against Tonga and luckily, started watching just before the hakas began. I've never seen the country this patriotic before, and you can definitely feel the hype in the air as you walk through town. I think the atmosphere will be amazing if we win - and I really hope we do.

In slightly related news, Sidhe's Rugby Challenge game hit the stores a few weeks ago and we've topped the New Zealand games charts. I wasn't on the development team for it, but I did make this nifty database exporter tool that they used. Yay. We had a launch party celebrating its release last week, with many of my ex-colleagues turning up for what was a fantastic night, and on Thursday, we got our own Rugby Challenge t-shirts. The Latin phrase "durum candidumque domi ludit" is written on the front, and it means "playing hard and fair at home".

Work has been tough for me lately. I spent a few late nights last week trying to wrap up some features and bugs. The end is in sight though, and I think we can make next Friday's deadline, though it depends on whether the company that we're doing this for can get their act together and deliver the final bits of information to us. The game will be our first social game on iOS and I'll be the first to let you know when you can download it.

Badminton time!


It's snowing!!!



Took a drive with Char up to Brooklyn, then picked up Jono and went to Karori. It's madness! I've never actually seen anything like it. Totally amazing. This weather is set to continue over the next few days apparently - whoohoo!


It's Over


Change

So for the past three or so weeks, I've tried growing my facial hair out, just as an experiment to see if I can grow a decent beard - which everyone knows, is vital to a person's programming ability. It's been received well at work; best compliment was from Dale ("Woah JLai, you look like you're 25 years old"). My parents were a bit shocked to see me unshaven though. I don't know how long I'll keep it. It's getting a bit itchy and long, and I will need to trim it to stop it looking gross.

Work is going well. Still busy. Thanks to this article, I can say I'm on the team working on the "social smartphone game". Whoo.

Portal 2 is going well. I'm in this large underground cavern with water and large broken spherical objects, and a tower with stairs leading to the top. The game is clever and humourous, and I'm thoroughly enjoying it.

Final Fantasy X is also progressing. I've just finished Bevelle and I'm rolling around the Calm Lands now. Eventually I'll have to do the stupid Chocobo Racing...and those butterflies...and blitzball. Blerg.

Oh yeah. I'm on Google+.


July

It's hard to believe it's July already. On one hand, we're getting to the coldest part of the year - this week has been absolutely freezing. On the other hand, the days are supposedly lengthening, but we won't actually notice a difference until much, much later. It's still depressing getting up in the dark and coming home in the dark.

Work has been incredibly busy. I'm finding myself having more responsibility, which is great and all, but it means I have to attend more meetings when sometimes all I want to do is just sit and program in silence, har har. Despite being busy though, I'm still enjoying where I am and what I'm doing.

I had Burger King for dinner for the first time in ages, and I'm reminded why I don't eat Burger King often.

It's gross.

Now that I have heaps of time on my hands, I've lined up a healthy set of games to keep me occupied: Final Fantasy X, Final Fantasy X-2 (don't hate), Final Fantasy XII, Kingdom Hearts and my most recent purchase, Portal 2, thanks to a Steam Summer Sale. That'll keep me going for a few months!


Vodka Gummi Bears

I decided to terminate the Great Vodka Gummi Bear experiment today, 25 days after it began. As I commented in my last post, they haven't really grown that much in the last two weeks or so; I estimate that most of the growth occurred in the first week actually.

Anyway, without further ado, here is the final result:



On the left, a yellow gummi bear showing the original size, and on the center and right, two of the vodka gummi bears from the original five in the experiment.

Verdict: There's no longer a gummi bear flavour present, it's pretty much vodka. Quite a sharp taste, and texture is more like hard jelly than chewy gummi. It's good but couldn't eat too many in one sitting (would probably get drunk).


Half Year Check-In

We're at the stage of the year where it's dark when I leave my house for work, and it's dark when I leave work for home. Thankfully, the days have been sunny and cheerful (kinda) but the nights are bitterly chilly since there's been no cloud over the day. Technically, it isn't even winter yet so the worst has yet to come.

I wrote a JSON Parser in C++. I should have probably paid more attention during the lecture on finite state machines, but thanks to these diagrams, JSON parsing is as easy as pushing and popping various states onto a state stack and then registering what you expect the next state to be. JSON parsing is much easier than XML and the language itself is lightweight and readable, so it's ideal for web applications where size of data should be minimised so it can be quickly transferred over the Internets.

My vodka gummi bear experiment continues to grow. It's been two weeks since I put them in there and I don't think they're growing much more. I brought one to work last week and it mysteriously vanished during my lunch break, only for me to return home and find out that it had actually melted and resolidified at home. Either the molecular structure of the gummi bear becomes unstable due to the alcohol replacing certain vital structural compounds, or my office is just too damn hot. The wonders of Science!

Also I'm on Facebook. I won't be abandoning this blog though.


Back Home

My bottle of Malibu cost NZ$39.50 at Auckland International Airport, compared with US$19.00 at SFO. I think there's a restriction on all carry-on luggage stating no liquids over 100mL can be taken about outbound US planes, so I was advised (quite rudely, actually) by the guy at SFO DFS not to buy it. Oh well... :(

Anyway, I'm back home in Wellington, enjoying the 50km/h winds, using my EFTPOS card, driving on the left side of the road and looking right then left when crossing the road. I just need to sort out my sleeping habits and it'll be like I never left the country.

Work tomorrow.

Photos from Easter and San Francisco are now available.


Day Seventeen: Final Day

Jimmy, Tony and I took an hour Caltrain ride to San Jose, where we visited the Winchester Mystery House - an eccentric mansion owned by Sarah Winchester, famous for stairways and doorways to nowhere so that Sarah could confuse spirits. A lot of the architecture and furnishings are based around the number 13, which she believed to be lucky. It was certainly an interesting experience.

I'm sitting here just after the security checks at San Francisco International Airport. It's sad... I've really enjoyed my time here with three of my workmates - I couldn't have asked for a better three to be with really. The food has been excellent, the weather practically perfect, the sights astounding. The work ahead will be difficult - like any other project - but we have learned a lot in our time here and hopefully we'll be on the right track to make the game as specified.

I will miss the American-sized portions of food, their delicious candy (I've brought a whole bunch back to New Zealand anyway), the good weather and the free lunches. I will not miss tipping, carrying loads of cash around and not having the full price listed.

It's been awesome but it's time to go. Thanks for a fantastic seventeen days, San Francisco.


Day Sixteen

We decided to go our separate ways today, so it was nice not having to stop every so often so Tony and Jimmy could have a smoke (although I bet they relished not having to go into every damn candy store they saw). I headed into town at 10am and took a bus to the Golden Gate Park. It's a really serene place, kinda like a huge version of Western Springs.

I wanted to go see the penguins at the California Academy of Sciences, but admission was a whopping $30, so I flagged that. The area around the entrance, known as the Music Concourse, was scenic and had three fountains in line with the main stage at one end of the park. I got an American Hot Dog for lunch and went to the Japanese Tea Garden afterwards. Admission there was $7 and I can't say it was really worth it but I was definitely glad that I went. A lot of the ornamental features reminded me of the trinkets you find in Zen Puzzle Garden, which is fantastic, and certainly a job well done. I also saw some squirrels running around. Yay squirrels!

Further west, there was Swan Lake where a lot of waterfowl had gathered around the lake's edge. There were also some paddle boats that people had hired to explore the area. It's spring so there were quite a few new adorable ducklings and cygnets waddling around. I continued further west, following a little brook running beside the footpath, until finally I reached the bison paddock. Disappointing.

I bussed back to town and did some shopping around Westfield and Macy's. On the top floor of the Macy's building, there's a cheesecake shop with the most delectable selection of cheesecakes like a Reese's Peanut Butter Cheesecake, Pina Colada Cheesecake, Strawberry and Cream Cheesecake... I settled for the Mango and Key Lime Cheesecake and it was soooooo gooooooood.

I wandered around the area for a while, stopping by the Yerba Buena Gardens where there was a memorial to Martin Luther King. There was a water feature with a waterfall that you could walk behind, and inscribed on several plaques at the back were excerpts from MLK's famous speech. I ended up walking to Chinatown for dinner where I had salt and pepper spicy prawns. Together with the cheesecake, I'm pretty sure I undid all the walking from today.

Last day tomorrow :( I'm not ready to leave!


Day Fifteen: Working from Home

The offices are in the process of being renovated so we were told to work from home. We took the opportunity to return to the pancake house opposite the apartments since they're absolutely packed on the weekends. Still, even on a Friday morning, the place was almost to capacity - we were wondering if there was some kind of public holiday that we were missing. I ordered a Hawaiian waffle - a large waffle covered in pineapple, banana, shaved coconut and sugar, topped with a mountain of whipped cream. SUGAR RUSH~!

We did actually do work though (I did at least). We went in for a rather intense meeting - there was a lot to learn and take in and plenty to think about in terms of the architecture of the game.

I went to get a root beer float from A&W and took it home where I slipped in a bit of Jack Daniels. So good.

Big day tomorrow!


Day Fourteen

I'm just waiting for my Mac to reinstall OSX, just so all Sidhe's company secrets are securely disposed of before we leave for New Zealand. From a tech standpoint, I think we're in a good position to head back and continue the project. The biggest beneficiaries of the stint here were definitely art and design, but it's been a great experience for all of us and certainly the exposure to a different company would be one of my most important.

I had a very calming dinner last night - prime steak - and then a few drinks at the bar (see the comment about Malibu). The steak wasn't the best I've ever had, but like the Chinese meal I had a few nights ago, it was a relief to have a solid chunk of meat.

So since I don't have a Mac anymore, I guess I'll have to go back to documentation...


Day Thirteen

Second to last day at work. The offices are being renovated on Friday so we'll be working from the apartments. We have a meeting with the OpenFeint guys so we'll go to that but otherwise today is really the second to last day.

I've developed a liking to Malibu and Coke. I might get a bottle at duty free....


Day Twelve

Jimmy and I went trekking to BevMo's at lunch, a huge alcohol store. I needed my final ingredient for gummi bears in vodka - vodka. So I bought a bottle of Swedish mango vodka for dirt cheap and I'll begin my grand experiment when I'm back in New Zealand. I'll keep you updated.

We went for dinner at this Hong Kong-style Chinese restaurant. I ordered the "Special Chicken" and it was cold steamed chicken, which was unusual but not terrible. What made the meal bad was the Hong Kong milk tea - I had forgotten how terrible that was.

Not long to go :(


Day Eleven

Back to work today. I tried Xcode4 to see if it would help fix a whole bunch of my linker problems. Do you remember the outrage when MS Office 2007 introduced ribbon-style navigation instead of toolbars? It's basically the same with Xcode4 - they've completely changed the way projects and files are treated and it's utterly confusing. There's no improvement and worse, it didn't fix my linker problems at all.

*TABLE FLIP*

I went to a Chinese place for dinner where I had a combination seafood dish with tofu and rice. Such a relief :P


Day Ten

We had another late start but we timed our departure from the apartments so that there would be plenty of time to get to Pier 33. We stopped by the Ferry Building again to grab some lunch - I got an Italian sausage sandwich from Boccalone, the "Tasty Salted Pig Parts" shop.

The day was really windy, rather reminiscent of Wellington actually, and the gusts were worse on the ferry to Alcatraz. But what a sight to see - both the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge in full splendour as we motored over the choppy waters to "The Rock". The prison tour itself was interesting, with many of the scars left by bombings and prisoner fighting still remaining. The views around the bay were fantastic, and although it was windy and cold like yesterday, it was brilliantly sunny with no signs of fawg anywhere.

Back on the main land, we sought out some food. Tobias and Mike had both recommended this burger joint called In N Out, so we tried that (the alternative was Hooters next door). It was tasty, but a bit salty for my preference, but it's all part of the American experience, I told myself. We parted ways with Jimmy and headed up to the Golden Gate Bridge Toll Plaza. I found out from this lady while walking around the Presidio yesterday that the cross-section of the cable I'd been looking for was at the plaza, so Tony and I headed in that direction via two bus routes, and I was extremely excited to see the famous cross-section that I had taken a picture with 15 years ago <3

I also didn't remember the Golden Gate Bridge being that massive. Truly a magnificent sight to see. We walked to the first supporting structure, staying far away from the edge of the platform as the vertigo started setting in. We took a few photos and admired the fantastic views while we could, then headed back to town.

On the way back, we stopped by the International House of Pancakes where I ordered a stack of four New York Cheesecake Pancakes. Omg it was sooooo goooooooood!


Day Nine

We hit town again, this time going from the Farmer's Market at the Ferry Building down by the Embarcadero to Pier 33, where the Alcatraz tours depart. Stepping into the Ferry Building felt like stepping into the Annual Food Show at the Caketin - specialty food stores offering some free samples and bustling with people. It was great, but not really for me - it's not like I'm actually cooking while I'm over here!

The Alcatraz tours had sold out for today so we bought tickets for tomorrow and continued our trek. We made our way further around, returning to Pier 39 where I bought $10 worth of taffy <3 and we got some better photos of the sea lions (since last time it was dusk). Further on, I got some seafood chowder in a bread bowl for lunch and we continued around to see these old ships that had been restored at Hyde Pier.

From the ships, we walked to the famous section of Lombard Street which has been named the crookedest street in the world. Then from there, we walked all the way down to the Presidio area to see the Golden Gate Bridge. It was an amazing sight, though the tips of the supporting structures were shrouded in fog (or fawg, as the Americans say). We also visited the Palace of Fine Arts, which has an amazing building decorated with columns and a huge dome with statues of muses adorning the outer rim.

Tired from all the walking, we bussed back to Powell Street. We saw a whole bunch of yellow go-karts that you can hire for touring the city, but they had balloons attached to them and people in Mario-themed costumes driving them - it was Mario Kart IRL!

We took the BART to 16th Street Mission to meet Tobias at the Monk's Kettle - also a favourite of Mike's. It was great to catch up with him and hear how he's settled in to San Francisco and how his new job is going. We spent some time at Amnesia around the corner before he left - Jimmy and I stayed a while listening to the live bands playing there, drinking soju (HAHAHAHA) and beer before heading home.


Day Eight: End of the Week

I can't believe it's been one week already. I feel like I've gotten so much out of this trip than the previous times I've been to America. In 1996 I was 10 years old, and it was basically YAY DISNEYLAND. In 2001 I was with my stingy high school friends, and it was more of a stop-over than anything - we did go to Six Flags Magic Mountain, which was awesome, though. This time, I'm an adult so I can do what I want, eat and drink what I want, go where I want, and I've got a good job so I can afford to pay for everything I want to do.

So today is Friday, Friday and it quietly marks what was a relatively busy week. I've been writing heaps of documentation, trying to plan out the project and create a blueprint of how various systems are going to fall together architecturally. At 5pm, we left work (the company we work for have a private meeting and we're not allowed in) and hung out at the local Mexican place, Hola!, where I proceeded to get drunk off my face again, after only one $4 margarita. In the space of 90 minutes, I went from sober to drunk to hungover. Oh, and because it was Happy Hour at Hola!, we got free food. YAY!

So I'm taking it easy tonight, just recovering from my one drink. We've got an early start tomorrow to do some more sightseeing.


Day Seven: Cinco de Mayo

So Americans are quite fond of Cinco de Mayo it seems, as much as New Zealanders are fond of St Patrick's Day. The Mexican restaurants around were buzzing with business and certainly the hotel and the caterers at work were in festive mood, with the hotel having a fiesta buffet and the caterers serving some delicious Mexican food - guacamole, tortillas, tacos, nachos, refried beans, red rice, and the best salsa I've ever had. Oh, and for dessert, there were fresh strawberries and fresh pineapple, and flan, which is basically vanilla bean custard. So gooood.

We wanted to try and catch the hotel's festivities but by the time we got back from work, they'd started to pack up, much to our disappointment. So instead, I thought I'd try a margarita royale to celebrate.

It almost killed me.

Happy Cinco de Mayo!


Day Six

Work continues. Not much to say about that, the project is going well at the moment. We are working. Really. Today's lunch was vienna chicken schnitzel, spinach lasagne, roasted sweet potato, and asparagus salad.

Today is Pool Night for Jimmy, so we went to the Burlingame Steelhead Brewery for some drinks and some pool. I had a raspberry cider and a pear cider - both fantastic and flavoursome, although very easy to drink. Fortunately for me, my superior mathematics skills shone through my inebriety with some tricky angle and ricochet shots on the pool table, with Tony and I winning against Mike and Jimmy 2 - 1, and Jimmy and I winning against Mike and Tony 2 - 1 again.

I just got back from dinner at this Thai place down the road. I was thinking of going to Taco Bell tonight, but since tomorrow is Cinco de Mayo, I reckon I'll have my fair share of Mexican food yet.


Day Five

We had a late but necessary kickoff meeting for the project today, and we also managed to track down some project documentation, so armed with a bit more direction, I began planning the architecture and identifying key areas for focus. That was pretty much the whole day! Lunch was barbeque chicken, grilled zucchini, roast vegetables and couscous. I'm liking this catered lunch thing very much.

We went to get some Clipper cards to use on the bus and train systems. Clipper's basically a stored value card, much like Snapper. The guy at the counter at Walgreens was extolling its virtues and after finding out we were from New Zealand, began talking about how Clipper's the future and it's awesome and stuff. I wanted to chime in with something about how we don't have such technology and instead use sheep to transport us everywhere.

Dinner was low key, with Tony and I heading to KFC/A&W in search of the fabled Double Down, only to be disappointed and not finding anything of the sort. We did get one of the famous A&W Root Beer Floats, so it wasn't total fail.

I think I am getting sick...


Day Four: First Day at Work

We set off for the train station at the relatively sane hour of 9am to catch the southbound Caltrain at half past, or so. Work starts at 10am and it was the only Caltrain that would get us there in time, so we had to make sure we wouldn't miss it.

Most of the time I've spent at the office is setting up my new MacBook Pro - getting software updates, Xcode, SDKs, etc. We haven't really been briefed on the kind of technology they use- whether there's any SVN repository or policies or things like that. I can't even really tell who's a programmer or who's an artist by looking around the room, although really the only indication is who has Xcode open.

They get catered lunches! Today's meal was meatball in mushroom marinara (which I didn't eat), stuffed capscicums ("bell peppers" in America) and brocolli pasta. There was also fresh salad and fresh fruit to compliment the mains. In the kitchen, they've got a shelf full of snacks like nuts and dried fruit and jerky. I love food!

On Fridays, they have a company meeting at 5pm (probably something like Show and Tell) and then they bugger off to the bar for Happy Hour drinks - so they pretty much leave 90 minutes early on Friday evening.

There's about 100 people on the floor, and in this particular room we're in, it's open plan so you can see from one side of the room to the other. I guess the only problem about this place is... everyone uses a Mac.


Day Three

Another slow start to the day, but who cares! It's the weekend and I'm in a totally different city having a nice holiday (for the time being, I'm really here for work. Really.) We made our way to Valencia Road where they have a pirate shop with all sorts of cool merchandise. I bought a t-shirt that says "Cannons don't kill people. Pirates with cannons kill people".

We headed in the direction of the Castro District after that, but on the way we found the Mission Dolores Park, where hundreds of people had gathered to enjoy a brilliantly sunny Sunday afternoon. Coincidentally, I also found Tobias wandering around there (Damn world, so small!) so we made plans to communicate further on MSN and meet up some time during the week. We continued our trek to the Castro, dodging dogs and dog poo along the way.

The Castro District was interesting and...quite intense. The place is decorated with rainbow flags and many of the shops have some awesome innuendo - the Sausage Factory restaurant, Moby Dick's bar, Hand Job massage and beauty therapy parlour, to name a few. Of course, there's plenty of gay men and lesbian women walking around as well, and we did see a guy strutting down the street in the nude too. Yeah...

From the Castro, we took the Muni Metro to Forest Hill and walked up to the summit of the Twin Peaks (we got a bit lost but that's okay, we made it in the end and it was totally worth it). The sights are amazing. Panoramic views of the whole city, from the Golden Gate Bridge in the north to the Bay Bridge out east, the Pacific Ocean in the west and Silicon Valley all the way out south. The weather was absolutely perfect for sightseeing and I'm glad we managed to see the city from this angle.

We returned to the Castro and then to the BART station to go back to the hotel where we had a quick meal and some drinks before crashing for the night. Afterall, it is a work night and we're heading to the office tomorrow, so we should look and act professionally!


Day Two

Our second day started off slowly, since most of us were still rather jetlagged. It wasn't until the afternoon that we actually got on the BART to town. We wandered around San Francisco Westfield for a bit to get some supplies, namely a drink bottle, although the chocolate-covered bacon piqued my curiosity. Jimmy said "do it!!!" so I did and it was disgusting.

We walked uphill for a bit to the Grace Cathedral and then down to Chinatown. Apparently the last time I was in San Fran, approximately 15 years ago, we went to Chinatown for dinner, but I have absolutely no recollection of that at all. There's lots of interesting little shops - although, I was a bit thirsty and decided to try some "tapioca drink", which I thought would be pearl milk tea, it ended up being taro water with pearls.

We made our way back to Powell Street and took the famous cable car to Fisherman's Wharf where we found road side stalls selling bread bowls of chowder. I tried a bit of Jimmy's since I didn't want a full one - it was rich and creamy, and very tasty. We also visited Musee Mechanique, a museum of old-fashioned coin-operated arcade machines (with a few new arcades too). Awesome stuff!

A quick check of the map later and we found Pier 39, bustling with heaps of people and plenty of shops to visit. Of course, I was mostly interested in the chocolate shop and the candy shop, but we also went to various others that piqued Tony's and Jimmy's interests. And yes, we saw and heard the seals too, although it was getting a bit dark by that stage. It was amusing to see them jostle and wrestle for a spot on the pier. We ended up at the Pier Market restaurant, where we each enjoy a root beer, grilled salmon, grilled swordfish and grilled shrimp. Additionally, I also got a white chocolate and raspberry cheesecake. Delicious!

On the way back to downtown, we saw a Segway gang. It was hilarious.

Jimmy wanted to find a bar to get some drinks at, but it looked like a lot of them closed or were too busy, so we ended up heading back to the apartments and calling it a night. Successful day was successful - I have a bag of Sour Patch Kids, four packs of Haribo gummies, two packs of Skittles and one large bag of peanut butter M&Ms. Yeah!


Day One

We took a look around the area we're staying and we visited the supermarket and the local Walgreens. Oh man, the confectionary aisle is full of magic like the Haribo gummi bears (I still have yet to find a kilogram bag of those) and peanut butter M&Ms and other delicious things that are hard to find in New Zealand. You've got such a huge brand selection here in the US, it can be a bit overwhelming.

For lunch, we went to the pancake house (not IHOP) across the road. I loved the food. I had two pancakes with grilled bacon and two "over-easy" eggs (I hadn't heard that expression before). Jimmy ordered this gigantic vegetarian omelette that he struggled to finish, so I ended up taking one of his pancakes too. Omg it's soooo goood.

We took a Caltrain to Burlingame and successfully located the offices where we will be working (the real purpose of this trip) and met with some of the people there, just as they were heading out for Happy Hour at this Brazilian steak restaurant a few minutes away, so we joined them for that. As my lead programmer had warned us, the drinks here are much, much stronger than what we are served in New Zealand, so that means I had to be careful and pace myself to prevent becoming completely hammered off my face.

We didn't stay for too long because the four of us were a bit tired from the long day, so we ended up back at the restaurant by the apartments, just chilling and drinking. I got some spicy chicken wings which were actually decently spicy (the food here is really impressing me) and it wasn't until midnight that I passed out on my bed.

Whoohoo! Day two, here I come.


San Francisco

I'm writing this on the company's Netbook from San Francisco airport. It's been a lengthy 12 hours on a plane over the Pacific Ocean, but I am finally here, safe and sound, in the United States of America. YAY! More blog posts to follow in the coming days.

Also it's Friday again. I'm excited.


Easter

It's always good when I go back up to Auckland to catch up with friends and family, and certainly Easter this year was no exception. The weather was warmer than Wellington, albeit a bit wet, but that didn't stop any of plans. Thursday night was spent at Momo's, naturally, and all of Friday I was helping my father build a deck. We made some pretty good progress - the remainder that we didn't finish required the use of a jig saw that we didn't have at the time.

On Saturday, I met up with Wellington-related people for yum cha: Jordan (current workmate), Bryce and Vaughan (ex workmates), Will (workmate's brother), Charlotte (flatmate), Jono (flatmate's boyfriend) and Mel (flatmate's boyfriend's ex-flatmate). The restaurant was extremely busy but we were finally seated at 12.50pm where we proceeded to enjoy a plethora of prawn and pork dishes. Excellent!

The Sidhe guys relocated to the Cock and Bull after lunch for a few drinks, until I left to return home via two bus routes. It surprised me that the Link bus now costs $1.80! I remember the good old days when it was $1. I met up with my CompSci friends at Sri Mahkota for dinner, and Movenpick in Newmarket for dessert.

On Easter Sunday, I was at KCC catching up with the old youth group and various other people, before heading to Wing Wahs for another yum cha, then Yifans and MCC in town for some gaming. DotA... so good. Sunday night was family dinner night, so I got to spend some time with my adorable three month old nephew.

Monday was pretty wet. I met Mat for a bromantic lunch in quite possibly the most inappropriate suburb for two males to socialise in - Ponsonby - and we made plans to meet up with Peter, visiting from Canada, that evening. I wanted to take them to KK but unfortunately that was closed so we ended up dining at the Thai restaurant across the road. We stopped by Ollies on the way to the airport, and then just like that, my four day escapade was over.

It's a busy time for me. Only three more days...


The Secret to Good Tom Yum Soup

Limes. Fresh lime juice. Adds that little bit of sweet and sour flavour to the soup... delicious! Before Dave left for Australia, we took him up to the Wairarapa for a bit of a tour, and on the way back we stopped by this fruit and vegetable place where I bought some huge capsicums, some lemons and some limes. While the capsicums are almost gone, I still have plenty of lemons and limes. I made lemon chicken one day, and apart from burning the chicken a little bit, it was really good. Yay for expanding my cooking horizons!

Been for karaoke twice in the past week. I "blame" Petey (King Pededede as his friends call him, his birthday was last week) and Owen. It's good fun, although I usually end up with no voice afterwards. Also, apparently Lift and Soju is a good combination, but I'm still ambivalent on that one.

Last week, I met up with the guys from the Tongariro Crossing to play some board games. We played a game of "Power Grid", where you're a power plant owner trying to supply Germany with power fueled from rubbish, coal, oil, uranium or environmentally-friendly sources. The game is interesting because the person in the best position will get the last turn to buy resources and build buildings, although this didn't seem to faze Jono, who pretty much steamrolled his way to victory.

After consuming a Burger Wisconsin burger and several greasily delicious sides, we wound down the night with a few games of Dominion. Next time, I think we're going to try Agricola or Puerto Rico. Looking forward to it!


The Latest Games Are Out!!!!


Dress Up

I hate dress up. I don't see the appeal of wearing something uncomfortable and awkward for the sake of entertainment. Beth had a flatwarming last Saturday with a theme of "pre-Internet" (it had taken them a month to get connected, I probably would have died by then) so it was pretty open. There were pirates and 1950s housewives and flappers and in my entire 5 seconds of considering what to wear, I donned a bedsheet on top of my clothes and called it a toga. Apparently this gives me "M4D PR0P5". Go look at the photos on Facebook.

Sunday was pretty busy too. After music in the morning, we had lunch at Great India and then went to Sunni's for some rounds of Carcassonne and Dominion. And that was great, it's been a while since I played either of them and I didn't do too badly. It took up most of the afternoon so I didn't get a chance to have my usual Sunday nap, so I was kinda tired when I went to Vaughan's for a delicious lamb roast.

I wasn't feeling too well on Monday so I took the day off, but I managed to achieve a lot of things (namely sleep). Psypoke is chugging along nicely, although it's a bit slow at times, and work is okay. Still waiting on news on my next exciting project...

Smudge's owner has finally taken to putting a collar on him, so it's kinda like we can't feed him anymore. He still visits us often (the collar has a bell on it, so while I'm at home and I hear a random jingle sound, I know there's a cat at the door) and he still loves being scratched and playing with my keys, but yeah, it's like the collar is a "hands off" signal so no more foods. Or maybe a little bit once in a while.

Yeah, life is alright at the moment. Really just waiting for that big news.


Tongariro Crossing

One of my friends, Beth, works for the National Library and since they merged with the Department of Internal Affairs, they decided to organise a trip to do the Tongariro Crossing. On Friday night, five of us crammed into my little car and made our way north to National Park via a stop at the Mediterranean Food Warehouse in Paraparaumu for a pizza dinner. We eventually arrived around 11.30pm and I promptly facebedded.

Saturday morning started at the unearthly hour of 5.30am, which I didn't know existed. As we got to the mountain, first light began to break and the clouds reflected a magnificent golden hue that illuminated the path ahead of us.

The walk was easy to begin with, but we were greeted with a tough uphill, then a plateau, then another uphill that brought us to the peak of the track - the Red Crater. All this while we were shrouded in cloud and a chilly alpine gust made conditions uncomfortable but tolerable. Visibility was poor so there was not much sight-seeing but we did see the Blue Lake. It would have been just around noon when we arrived at the Ketetahi Hut. With Beth and Julie lagging behind, we decided to have lunch and take a nap. It was another 90 minutes to the carpark and that was it - the Tongariro Crossing conquered in 6 hours.

I'd met a girl called Claire from DIA on the bus over, and she introduced me to her friends Matt, Mike and Rose who Jono, Holly and I were walking most of the track with. I was glad to find out that Mike also worked in the private sector - quite a minority both on this trip and in Wellington. We all hit it off immediately and after the tramp, we celebrated with plenty of vodka, gin and cider while chillaxing in the spa pool. As the night went on, the joviality turned to rapturous song that only alcohol could fuel. We were so good, we started getting requests from the other visitors at the lodge! .

Sunday was a nice easy drive back to Wellington, via the giant Ohakune carrot, the Taihape gumboot, the Otaki factory outlets and a quick ice cream at Pauatahanui.

Awesome weekend was awesome.


When Will It Stop?

It just doesn't end, does it? Christchurch was hit by a 6.3 earthquake just before 1pm today. The city, still reeling from a 7.1 quake only in September of last year, could not withstand another as buildings came crashing down. This earthquake was centered a mere 10km from the city center, and worse at a depth of only 5km, making devastation much worse.

It's horrible to sit here and watch the news with reports of injury and death; as it stands the death toll is currently 65 but is slated to dramatically increase as people are pulled from rubble and debris. I can only hope and pray for the safety of Christchurch and its people as they come to terms with their losses.

The country mourns with you and we are thinking of you all in this terrible time.


Wellington Anniversary

Happy Wellington Anniversary.

My injuries have been healing well and the swelling and bruising in my right eye has greatly decreased. The ophthamologist said I didn't have to take so many eye drops as well, and that's awesome because eye drops cause me so much agony. I got my replacement glasses from OPSM too so I'm pretty much back on track with my life.

Work has been going well. Last Friday, we farewelled our iPhone producer and bid him the best for architecture school. We shared our "last" drinks with him at Southern Cross, which was unfortunately right across the road from that incident, so I was extra careful when heading home. Fortunately, I made it back without any problems, this time.

Saturday was pretty uneventful, save for some badminton in the morning. Jono (Dall) and Dave came over to watch a movie with Charlotte in the evening, but we played Dominion while waiting for the DVD to burn. Sunday was just pouring with rain so I tried to stay indoors as much as possible. We did go for Laser Strike for Jono's (Dixon) birthday then to Cha for dinner afterwards, and finally back to their flat for some board games including Sunni's newest acquisition, Carcassonne. Those Germans really know how to make board games, huh?

Today, Jono, Char, Dave, Beth and I bundled into my car and we roadtripped up to Lindale Park on the Kapiti Coast. There's a cafe there and some specialty shops for Kapiti-branded cheese, ice cream, wine and honey, as well as a farm with lots of adorable animals like bunnies, chickens, calves, goats, donkeys, alpacas, guinea pigs and several ducks and geese on site. We drove a bit further north and lazed about on Waikanae beach for a while before heading back to Wellington.

I'm tired.

Edit: I've just received a text from my brother-in-law and I am an uncle to a baby boy, weighing 8 pounds, 12 ounces! Mother (my sister) is exhausted but doing well. Squee!!


A Pretty Bad Four Days

So I moved into my new place last Saturday, and while the moving was all pretty smooth and everything get shifted okay, I found out late at night that I hadn't had any gas connected and so I didn't have hot water. This would have been close to midnight, so I was tired and frustrated and in my haste to go to Jono's house for a shower, I backed the car into a fence. Fortunately it looks like it's just superficial scratches and nothing serious, so that's that.

Of course, on Sunday, the power company still isn't working, so I didn't have hot water on Sunday either. That's alright, I was at Jono's house for a shower then as well. On the bright side, though, Tom was down from Auckland so we went to Strawberry Fare for some excellent desserts.

On Monday, the phone contractor arrived and told me I needed to be at home to sort out the bloody phone line, so I ran home and sorted all that out. The gas company had also apparently made everything work, so at least I have hot water now. Later that night, I met up with Mel at Estadio for her farewell dinner. And that was really good, I became a lot more social after a glass of Montieth's Crushed Apple Cider.

In any case, we went to the Library for more socialising and then I walked with Roman up Cuba Street on my way home, and we parted ways at Abel Smith Street. As I walked down, I became aware of two people following me. In the next instant, they had caught up and at that point in time, I thought about running but they struck me from behind and knocked me to the ground. I could hear them say something like "grab his stuff" but I struggled and they ran off without any reason, and also without any of my possessions. The only thing I had lost were my glasses, but I managed to pick them up, although they were pretty busted.

\(_o)/

I phoned the police shortly after and they arrived on the scene very quickly. We did a few laps around the block to see if we could catch anyone, and we returned to the crime scene where I showed them what had happened and managed to spot some blood splotches. We returned to the station where an ambulance was waiting. I heard they managed to apprehend someone, so I'm thankful for their quick action and vigilance. They took some DNA swabs and some photographs for evidence, and then I was taken to the hospital for an examination.

I must have spent around three hours at Wellington hospital, just having my facial injuries checked, and the extent of damage to my eye. I also visited the ophthamologist yesterday to have a proper check over my eyes. It looks like everything is pretty superficial and that there's nothing permanent, so I'm thankful for that as well. They'll continue to monitor me over the next few weeks, and they'll also be taking an x-ray to make sure there's no fractures that they have missed.

Apart from that, I've been in to see the optometrist for new glasses, the dentist to fix some chips in my teeth, the insurance company to pay for my glasses and the police to finish off some paper work. It's been just a huge inconvenience and I'm quite annoyed that this happened like this. Physically and mentally, I'm fine and there's nothing serious, so I appreciate all the messages of support I've been getting. I don't know how long I'll be off work for, but I said I would try to come back on Friday.

I guess I'll see how I feel over the next few weeks, huh?


Computer on the Mend

So thanks to Elliot at work, we (he) diagnosed the problem with my computer and found it was a faulty graphics card, so I bought a new one and hopefully it will arrive tomorrow and I can have a computer again. But then I'll be moving house and probably have no Internet for two weeks so blah, but that's okay because I'll still have my computer. Or something.

In my computer's absence, I've had to resort to using primitive methods of organising my life, such as a pen and paper schedule of what's coming up as well as things I need to do before/after I move house. Things are slowly sorting themselves out, I've managed to get power and the phone sorted (despite being a telecommunications company, Telecom is surprisingly difficult to get a hold of). I just need to call up my ISP tomorrow and get that sorted too and finally organise a van to move all the big stuff to our respective flats.

Phew!


Back in Wellington

F1RST P0ST. Happy new year to all (three) of you.

Arrived safely in (grey, cold, windy) Wellington after a cruisy 9 hour drive in glorious sunshine. We stopped in Cambridge for lunch, Taupo for ice cream and Bulls for dinner, but unfortunately the famous kebab place wasn't open so we had to settle for deep fried disgustingness. Oh well.

Unfortunately for me, my computer seems to have died so I'm borrowing Jono's laptop for the time being. Hopefully someone awesome at work can look at it tomorrow.

Still have some bits to clean before people start arriving to view the flat.

I hope my computer gets fixed soon :(