Found 19 blog posts for the month: May 2011

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.


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.