Found 31 blog posts for the year: 2012

How do I summer

For the first time since I arrived in Auckland, it has been brilliantly sunny. I took advantage of the great weather by doing some laundry, naturally, and within a few hours all my clothes were dry! It's amazing!

I did more than just laundry though, a bunch of us went out to Karekare Beach, near Piha, just to chill in the sun. Though some dark ominous clouds rolled over around 3pm, they were nothing more than extra sunshade and the conditions remained warm and pleasant.

Just got back from an epic Korean BBQ place out on the shore called Arirang with my friends from CompSci. So much news to catch up on... no one ever keeps me informed :(! There was a huge amount of food and I was blown away by how cheap it all was as well. I tried freshwater snails for the first time, as well as cold noodles, and was spoiled for choice with the multitude of delectable side dishes. Nothing in Wellington comes close to the quality AND quantity at this place. Huge thanks to Laura for sorting everything out and cooking all the meat for us.

Yesterday I caught up with some ex-colleagues - Vaughan and Roy - as well as Alan, who had driven my car up to Auckland from Wellington via Taupo. We played a few games of pool and had a great meal at Erawan Thai on Jervois Rd. It was a little weird seeing my car up here when I didn't drive it up... after dinner we went our separate ways and I ended up at Ben's house for some board games (and Spaceteam!) until 1am. Citadels is slowly becoming a favourite of the group!

On Thursday I went for yum cha with my sister and her family. Nephew is still as adorable as ever, and was well behaved at the restaurant. It's so good to go with my sister because I get to eat things that my friends don't normally eat, like tofu and tau fu fa. I spent the afternoon just catching up with them, and then playing with my nephew after his nap. I feel so proud to be his uncle!

And finally on Wednesday, I went into town to check out Boxing Day sales. Yeah, it's not really like me at all. Queen St was full of people (lots of Asians lololol) looking for bargains; peering into some of the small shops, they're crammed packed with people who can barely move around, such is the utter madness of these Boxing Day sales. As for myself, I purchased a few items from the Warehouse: some bedsheets, new shoes, some socks.... nothing really that exciting. I remember walking around thinking about how much I hate shopping and that I can finally say I did the Boxing Day thing and that the amount I save doesn't feel like it justifies the chaos I experience in the shopping malls. Never again.


It's Christmas Time

I have to admit, I'm a little jealous of all my friends in Wellington posting these pictures of the glorious weather, while in Auckland it's overcast and windy and wet. In any case, the weather has never stopped us celebrating Christmas and having a good time.

Yesterday I introduced my friends to Spaceteam on iOS and also played a bit of Citadels too. Dragon Gate! In the afternoon I had to rush off to Pak n Save to prepare for a small Christmas Eve dinner at home, as well as supplies for Christmas lunch the next day. It was totally chaotic there, with hundreds of others running around the supermarket trying to finish their last minute shopping. Thankfully I was done with plenty of time to spare and had a good meal with Mat and Jono, despite two last minute cancellations from Tom and Andrew.

And today's Christmas plans were great as well. So nice to catch up with my sister and her family - my nephew is almost two years old now (how time flies...) and full of laughter and energy. Now that he's walking and talking, he's a lot of fun to play with and absolutely adorable. He even knows how to high five! I'm sure there will be many more memorable moments to come.

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas, wherever in the world you may be!


Wrapping up for Christmas

We had a game pitching session at the start of the month in the hopes we'd be able to generate some ideas for a Game Jam session in the last week of the year. Thanks to some quick last minute work by Jimmy, I put forward a pitch for an idea that had been festering for a few years. From the 19 pitches that were presented, 9 were chosen by senior management to go through as prototype candidates for Game Jam, mine included!

The great thing about the format of Game Jam this year is that everyone voted for pitches that they wanted to play and wanted to work on, and then everyone was assigned to a team they voted for. Having the initial buy-in meant that each team was passionate about the idea and were motivated to do they best they could. It works in a similar way at Facebook and Valve, I believe; you recruit your coworkers by marketing your idea and if they are interested, they'll join your project team.

In any case, what my team achieved in a single week was phenomenal, and indeed the other 8 prototypes were absolutely stunning as well. There was a great sense of camaraderie and appreciation for the amazing amount of talent the company has, and it was truly a wonderful way to end the year. I had a lot of fun in this past week, and we will be eagerly waiting to see which games make it to fu production next year.

In celebration we had some food and drinks at the Fork and Brewer on Friday night, and then the last badminton for the year on Saturday morning. In the afternoon I cleaned all the things and scurried off to the airport for the last flight to Auckland.

Ironically the Metservice has forecast rain for the next 10 days in Auckland, while Wellington gets a better forecast next week. Sure enough it rained a bit today, but that didn't dampen plans to play DotA2 and meet up with my workmates for some delicious Peking Duck at Sun World, and a few drinks at the Cock and Bull to end a great night.

Holidays are awesome.


Labour Weekend and Tatsumi

I've been meaning to write this up for some time but immediately after Labour Weekend, it was just full on work to get DreamWorks Dash n Drop out on the App Store. And we did it, and it was great, yaaay. More on this in another blog post...maybe.

I had a good Labour Weekend. I finally got to visit my friend Deanna's famous Moustache Milk and Cookie Bar, and I came away with four delicious cookies to share with my family. I met up with the old Grammar gang in Mt Eden for a nice lunch. I even got to play some badminton with Julia and Steven! Of course I got to catch up with family - my adorable nephew had just started walking and was even saying a few words! So cute.

I also had a mind-blowing culinary experience at a restaurant called Tatsumi. My parents had been raving about how good this place is ever since they had a 10 course degustation there. I just had to try it. I said I'd take them there for a meal over Labour Weekend and my stepmum gleefully made all the necessary arrangements. Tatsumi is on Davis Crescent, just near the intersection of Khyber Pass and Broadway. Originally from Christchurch, their premises were struck by the earthquake and condemned, forcing them to relocate to Auckland. They describe themselves as "European-inspired Japanese fusion style" and you'll certainly see how the food at Tatsumi has been so masterfully crafted to bring together these two cuisines to create something rich and absolutely delicious.

Since my parents had already sampled the degustation, they decided to go a la carte. I, on the other hand, was ready for a 10 course meal.

10 Course Degustation

  • Tempura Oyster
  • Chef's Choice of Assorted Appetisers
  • Variety of Sashimi
  • Tempura Soft Shelled Crab Salad
  • Crispy Skin Salmon Teriyaki
  • Braised Pork Belly
  • Scampi Miso Soup
  • Assorted Nigiri Sushi
  • Passionfruit Sorbet
  • Green Tea Fondant




Tempura Oyster: Light and crispy, like all good Japanese tempura. Also pictured are the appetisers that my parents were given, but I can't remember what they are.

Chef's Choice of Assorted Appetisers: clockwise from top is the fresh oyster, salmon sashimi with camembert (yum!), beef tataki, fish croquette with tartare, crispy lotus root, beans with sesame oil drizzling and in the center, pan fried salmon.

Variety of Sashimi: only the freshest tuna, salmon and snapper sashimi is served.

Tempura Soft Shelled Crab Salad: incredibly delicious, again with the light and crispy batter of the tempura, but with an added crunch from the soft shelled crab. Decorated with salmon roe and a generous portion of creamy Japanese mayonnaise.

Crispy Skin Salmon Teriyaki: simple and satisfying, comes with two onion rings, wasabi mashed potatoes, and portobello and blue cheese tortellini which I was happy to offload to my parents.

Braised Pork Belly: I remember this being a little too salty for my tastes, but I was very impressed by the ornate candied ginger apple slice sitting between the potato croquettes and the skinless plums.

Scampi Miso Soup and Assorted Nigiri Sushi: the scampi miso soup was divine; the scampi provides such an intense and tasty seafood flavour that truly brought out the best of miso soup. Unfortunately the shell was too hard for me to really dig into the scampi.

Passionfruit Sorbet: refreshing and fruity; of course, this is merely the appetiser of the desserts...

Green Tea Fondant: served here with a candied orange slice and raspberry ice cream, the green tea fondant is sublime; the interior is an intense green filling with an amazingly smooth and viscous texture.


It was so good.


The Duck

In French, this is "Le Canard", and in Wellington, this is a little restaurant near New World Thorndon. Last Saturday, Jo and Alice (who were down for World of Wearable Art) booked a table for the three of us.

Though the day had started off with some brilliant sunshine, it was typically Wellington by dinnertime - cold, wet, windy. Somehow this did not deter the group of protesters who had gathered outside Le Canard to voice their disdain at the foie gras on the menu. According to the waiter there, they're quite regular. I was tempted to try it just out of morbid curiosity, but instead we chose the less controversial escargot for one starter, and the crab cake and crayfish jelly with smoked softboiled egg for the other. Though the escargot were delicious, they do not compare to the garlic and herb-smothered escargot from St Tropez, formerly in Parnell, Auckland, currently closed. The snails were served in a crispy potato chimney with spinach foam, spinach puree and bacon bits; the egg sat atop the crab cake rather ornately - a rich, golden interior with all the familiar sea flavours from the seafood underneath.



For mains, I chose the "platter of pig": pork crackling on lentils, pork belly, mince pork croquette, and black pudding wrapped in bacon. The dish was hearty and filling - the crackling so light and fluffy it was like popcorn; the black pudding was deliciously rich and wrapped in tasty bacon. Alice had the duck confit and Jo (still recovering from a bout of food poisoning) had the venison.



Finally for dessert, we decided to share the assorted platter: creme brulee, rhubarb meringue and profiteroles. Though each was exquisite in its own way, the rhubarb meringue was my favourite. I thought that the creme brulee from Boulcott St Bistro was better though. The profiteroles were masterfully structured to match the restaurant's name - an ice cream base to give a solid foundation, then cream and choux pastry in the shape of a duck. Deliciously cute.



All in all, an excellent meal, made much more affordable with the Entertainment Gold Card. They get bonus points for complementing my French speaking skills. Would definitely eat there again. Maybe I should try that foie gras...


Mooncakes

It's that time of the year again. That one where my inner child squeals in delight as all the Asian supermarkets begin stocking all sorts of delicious mooncakes - white lotus, red bean, pandan and durian, in one yolk, or in two for a teensy bit more money. My choice this year was the Golden Emerald 1 Yolk from Restoran Oversea in Malaysia. True to its name, the rich emerald-coloured filling is made possible by the intense pandan flavour - with hints of almond and coconut, and accompanied with a single duck egg yolk in the center of the cake. Yum!

In celebration of mooncake festival, I cooked dinner at the Treehouse.

Mooncake Festival Dinner 2012
~ Deep fried tofu with cucumber, red onion, sweet chili sauce and ground peanuts ~
~ Stir-fried bok choi, green beans, baby corn and prawns ~
~ Grilled mussels with cheese and bacon ~
~ Roast duck garnished with cucumber and tomato ~
~ Lettuce wrap with minced lamb, capsicum, baby corn and bamboo shoots ~


Charlotte was in charge of dessert:
Mooncake Festival Dessert 2012
~ Mango pudding garnished with fresh strawberry ~
~ Golden Emerald Pandan Mooncake with One Yolk ~


Everything went according to plan and the meal was a huge success.

Let's see... I had a sunny weekend up in Otaki, went to Wellington on a Plate with Mel at the Boulcott St Bistro, I've been playing a few games on my Sega Mega Drive, I went to the Japanese Festival at the Town Hall, I've eaten a few KFC Double Downs and had Hot 'n' Spicy, went to see Jeramiah "Module" Ross perform the Shatter soundtrack live at the San Francisco Bath House... and I've also been quite busy at work. Two more weeks until Beta >_> The game is shaping up to be pretty good and I'm proud of what we've done. There's still lots more work to be done and various aspects of the game still need some tightening and polish. I guess we'll be ramping up efforts closer to our deadlines to try and cram things in.

Oh and I've finished uploading all my America photos and just added photos from my springtime photodump.


A Weekend of Sport

I think the last time I crammed so much sport into one weekend was the Rugby World Cup. Though I missed the start of New Zealand's golden run in the rowing on Thursday night with Nathan Cohen and Joseph Sullivan, I caught our two-golds-one-hour on Friday night over at the Treehouse. And what an amazing hour - the excitement of seeing Hamish Bond and Eric Murray completely obliterate their opponents, then Mahe Drysdale finally obtaining his elusive gold after the bronze four years earlier in Beijing was totally exhilarating; congratulations to them all!

On Saturday we caught the Chiefs vs Sharks game at Four Kings, while simultaneously watching the women's triathlon and further rowing events. The atmosphere there was great, with so much joviality and passion for the rugby. So much fun! I caught the rest of the rowing including Storm Uru and Peter Taylor taking bronze for the lightweight double sculls over at LBQ, who were celebrating their birthday with free drinks and delicious cake. It was a relatively early night for me though because I was rostered on music for church on Sunday. Music went very well, including an epic finale to Great is the Lord, He is Holy and Just - we don't sing the coda because it's very difficult, but on Sunday we decided we'd play it anyway, and it was such an awesome crescendo and build up to the end that we surprised the congregation and earned a round of applause!

After a delicious yum cha at Big Thumb (despite it being in receivership...), it was a quiet afternoon and dinner, before heading to the Treehouse to catch a bit of the men's hockey and the cycling omnium with some scrumptious lemon meringue and gingernut. What a weekend.


Monthly Check-In

I think it took me about a week in New Zealand to realise I wasn't on holiday anymore and to feel back in routine and get over the jetlag. Only a week :( But here I am, just over a month later and America seems like such a long time ago.

Things have been busy since I got back. There was the release of Black 2 and White 2 in Japan, as well as Pokemon Conquest in English. I've been busy hacking bits of information from the ROM with a friend of mine who is originally from Canada but is on a student exchange in Singapore. The developers have chosen to lay the information out in strange ways. Normally things are aligned to byte boundaries, but in Conquest, you often find clumps of data that span any number of bits between 3 and 10, making it difficult to discern data. Progress has been slow but the more we become used to this retarded system, the more patterns we find in the data. We had some great breakthroughs using Tinke's graphics utilities to batch export the Warrior and Pokemon Gallery images - exciting stuff!

Work at Sidhe has been pretty full on as well. Upon arriving back, I'd learned that I had been reassigned to another project starting immediately, and due out at the end of October. We are still in the prototype phase, and finding many challenges with the development and design. Stay tuned for exciting updates! We'll be on both iOS and Android.

I was in Taupo at the start of the month for Richard and Tanya's wedding. The weather was brilliantly sunny, despite dropping to -1C overnight. The lake and snow-capped mountains in the distance make the area so scenic. The church ceremony was okay, the highlight being the newlyweds walking out to the tune of the Star Wars theme. The reception though was great - fresh oysters galore! It was great catching up with school friends that I hadn't seen in a while, even if some of them still owe me money for accommodation. It was a great weekend away from Wellington, and to cap it all off, I coincidentally bumped into my youth group friends from Auckland in Turangi's Burger King. Small country >_>

I caught up with one of my old flatmates who had moved to the UK four years and is back in New Zealand for a month or so. It was a socially draining but very enjoyable weekend. Also got to play a bit of 7 Wonders too! Good times.

I still haven't sorted out my photos from America. There's over 2500 of them (and not all of food) but hopefully when the dust from Conquest settles, I'll have some time to go through all of them and process them.


Homeward Bound

So it's finally time to go home. Though O'Hare Airport doesn't have free wifi, I'm writing this in anticipation of a connection at LAX then I can just hit submit and it will post to my blog.

Yesterday we took it easy; Kheng Yong went up the Willis Tower while Mat and I relaxed at the hotel. When he returned, we walked through Millennium Park and took more photos of the Cloud Gate - the previous ones didn't turn out as well as I had hoped since the sky was overcast on the day we were there. We continued on to Navy Pier where we booked a Segway Tour (Mat's idea...).

Segways are weird. They're balanced controlled so you lean forward to go forward, and lean back to go back (or stop). The sensation is different to anything you'd expect but I personally was not as enthralled with it as Mat was. The tour was good though, we explored North Beach and Lincoln Park, and despite my general apathy towards the Segway, I was glad that we weren't walking all that distance.

We had another round of Chicago Deep Dish Pizza to commemorate our last night in the US. Again, it was delicious. We finished the night at the Buckingham Fountain, enjoying the lights dancing to Beethoven's 1812 Overture.

It's been a wonderful month away and I have thoroughly enjoyed the sights, the sounds, the people, the food and the experiences. I've been away for a long time but it's time to come home to the frozen temperatures of a New Zealand winter. Yay.


Chicago

Chicago's a great city, very picturesque and despite being the "windy city", it definitely isn't as windy as Wellington. The wind does provide a nice breeze on a hot day, though yesterday it was overcast and actually rather pleasant to walk around.

We have covered the Shedd Aquarium, the Field Museum, Millennium Park, Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) and the John Hancock Observatory. The view from the Willis Tower was stunning and Lake Michigan provides a scenic contrast to the urban sprawl around Chicago. We also managed to catch a beautiful sunset from the John Hancock Observatory, but despite my best efforts, I was unable to see the green flash.

We managed to fit in a bit of shopping on the Magnificent Mile, try the famous deep dish pizza and got $20 swindled off us by some twat who volunteered to give us directions then demanded money (it sounded like he had gang connections...).

We went our separate ways yesterday since I didn't really want to go to the Art Institute and Mat didn't really want to go to the Planetarium. Most of the stuff there was nothing new to me but there was a cool presentation with a 3D visualisation of the sun. I also walked to Navy Pier for a quick squizz around, but there wasn't really anything that interesting. The views of the city were nice though and I could have gone on the Ferris Wheel for only $6 for a better view, but since I was by myself it seemed a bit Forever Alone to go solo.

We met up with Kheng Yong in the evening and caught the Navy Pier fireworks from the steps by the Adler Planetarium. The shows are twice weekly during summer and they are way better than the useless fireworks you get from the Sky Tower at New Years Eve. They must have loads of money to burn...

Last full day in the US. It's gone by so quickly!


Cedar Point

We arrived in Cleveland, Ohio just before 11am and we had a few hours to kill before we could check into the condo at Sandusky, so Matt took us to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, via Cleveland's famous Free Stamp Sculpture. It was a quick run through of the premises before we hit the road west. We did not see Lady Gaga's meat dress.

We picked up the keys to the condo from some dodgy lady at the toll plaza, probably some ex KGB agent, and picked up Todd before finally arriving around 5pm at the condo. Sandusky Bikers Week was in full force, with leather-clad men and women on bikes everywhere. This is the real American experience! We chilled out for the night, playing some video games and drinking a few drinks before turning in for the big day ahead.

And what a day it was. Despite some awful nauseating experiences and deathly heat, the best rides were the award winning Millennium Force and the Dragster (check out the videos on YouTube!). It was an incredible weekend to spend with amazing people and though I wasn't feeling great the whole day, overall I had heaps of fun. Thank you to you awesome people for making this happen!

I suppose the other highlight to the day was finding a fabled Walmart and seeing exactly what the buzz about it was. They have everything there, even $200 guns, and the store was pretty busy at 11pm. It's madness. It's also huge. Though we did not see obese people in thongs or pajamas, we did catch a couple of anime convention goers in full costume. Oh America.

So currently in Chicago, the hotel doesn't have free wifi and Mat is egging me to finish blogging. It's only one more week until I'm back in New Zealand so it's time to cram all the fun into the final few days!


DC in Two Days

Day One:
Arrive at Union Station. Metro towards the waterfront. Drag my suitcase and all the candy two blocks to the hotel. Sweating buckets. Arrive at hotel. Too early to check in. Offload candy into suitcase and head to the National Mall. Visited the Capitol Building, the National Air and Space Museum, Washington Memorial, the White House (did not see Obama), the Lincoln Memorial (the famous Forrest Gump scene is being renovated), the Vietnam and Korean War Memorials, the Roosevelt Memorial, MLK Memorial, Jefferson Memorial... then passed out back at the hotel.

Day Two:
Early start. Off to the Pentagon and its accompanying September 11 Memorial, then to Arlington Cemetry, the Iwo Jima Memorial, the National Museum of Natural History, the American Art Museum for a special exhibition on the Art of Video Games (Shatter was nominated for this but didn't quite make it!), the National Building Museum for a Lego exhibition and finally the Zoo.

Sheesh.

So there are memorials all over the place, famous sites and amazing buildings here. Everything seems to be under construction or is undergoing some maintenance. The weather has been overwhelmingly hot but tolerable and still better than the bone-chilling winds of Wellington.

The city is also overrun with school children. I sound old for saying this, but they are horribly obnoxious, loud, rude, and have absolutely no respect for the places they are visiting. You expect a place like Arlington to be peaceful and there are even signs around the place saying please be silent as respect for the dead, but no these kids are still yelling at the top of their lungs and talking about whatever, like, ohmahgawd, girlfriend puh-please. These memorials have a lot of history behind them and they are more than just tourist attractions. They remind us of the difficult times people have overcome or the tragic loss of life.

Another early start tomorrow to get to the airport, and it's off to Ohio!


Train to DC

Man, even the train has free wifi.

Yesterday we started the day at the Museum of Natural History near Central Park, only a few blocks from the hotel. The place is massive, with four floors taking me a total of three and a half hours to explore. There's plenty of exhibits on space, geology, extinct animals, cultures of the world and dinosaurs.

I did a huge candy run. So much candy. I'd say I have around five kilograms of the stuff and it was tough carting all of it to the train station this morning. Sadly I won't be eating all of it... It's mostly gifts for friends and family.

But the best part of my day was being able to witness, firsthand, the historical Transit of Venus, which will not happen for another 115 years. My luck with viewing astronomical events has never been good, and with rain and clouds forecasted for the day, it looked like it was going to be rather iffy at stages. But shortly after 6pm, the clouds parted for a brief glimpse into the heavens and the several telescopes that had been set up at the Pier 1 Cafe on Manhattan's west all caught the intense black spot nestled on the sun's rim. My thanks again to the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York for organising this event and I am totally stoked to be out of stormy Wellington for this!

The Amtrak train is cool. In the two hours I've been on the train, we've been from Penn Station in NYC to New Jersey, Pennsylvania and now in Delaware, with Maryland and finally DC to go.


Rain

For the first time on this trip, the rain has actually inconvenienced us. It was a wet walk from the Grand Central railway station to the UN Buildings, but since the tour is completely indoors, we weren't really affected that much in the end.

The UN tour was awesome. We were lucky to view the General Assembly Hall and the Security Council meeting rooms since they were empty and not in session, so we were able to take some good photos of those areas. They look just like they do on TV! There were also some great displays about peace and the Millennium Goals, as well as information about how the UN works and its structure and purpose. We didn't see Helen Clark though.

But the highlight of today was Avenue Q. Absolutely brilliant, an excellent performance by the cast and hilariously enjoyable, I was laughing so hard, I was actually in tears. Would recommend to anyone with a good sense of humour and who isn't offended easily!


My Feet Hurt

Yesterday we did the International tour of NYC: Chinatown, Little Italy and, if you've seen my Facebook photo, various set locations from Flight of the Conchords including their apartment, the New Zealand Consulate and Dave's Pawn Shop! For lunch we had the famous New York style 18" pizza from Lombardi's in Little Italy.

We made our way over to Brooklyn to visit the Superhero Supply store, as well as a Kiwi-owned restaurant called Kiwiana. Mat got his first flat white in two weeks (I wanted some L&P but they didn't have any) and we each ordered a pavlova. Ah the taste of home.

Today we wandered around Central Park. It reminds me of the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, being quite an expansive area in such a busy city. It's nice and relaxing, and there's plenty of places to just chill out and doze off in the sun. Unfortunately for a tourist, time is of the essence and we had to power through all the landmarks we could - hence the title of this post. We covered the zoo (Red pandas! Penguins! Seals! Snow leopard! Polar bear!), the Turtle Pond, Belvedere Castle, Strawberry Fields and the Conservatory Garden before heading back to the hotel for a breather.

Another full day tomorrow... phew!


Memorials, Bulls, Statues and Bridges

We started the day off at Ground Zero, where the reconstruction of the World Trade Center buildings are underway, and where two memorial pools serve as a sign of respect and remembrance to all those who perished on September 11, 2001. The place is surprisingly busy and noisy, mostly from construction workers and equipment, which is in stark contrast to what I expected it to be. The memorials are simple yet beautiful water features, square in shape with water flowing into a large hollowed drain in the center. Around the perimeter are the names of those killed on that day, from the flights, the towers, the rescuers and the other landmarks that were affected.

The 9/11 Memorials hold much emotion and you can sense both the grief of the event and the hope of the rebuilding. Various videos from the visitor centers tell stories of people who have lost family and friends in this disaster. A giant American flag with names of the dead printed in red and blue hangs solemnly on the wall. I can't help but think back to what that day was like; a phone call at 6am from William urged me to check the news. I still remember the haunting images of the planes colliding with the towers and their eventual collapsing. It was all abuzz at school (5th form) but being so far from the action, I can't help but wonder what the feelings were like in New York, around that exact site where I was standing earlier today.

We moved on to Wall Street and the famous Charging Bull statue, a symbol of the aggressive financial optimism and prosperity that institutions around that area draw much needed inspiration from. We continued south and decided to take a ferry to Liberty Island for a quick tour of the statue; the statue itself is undergoing renovations so there is no entry to the observation levels inside. Back at the Battery Park, we made our way over to Brooklyn via the famous Brooklyn Bridge. We caught some magnificent sights of the Manhattan skyline from both the ferry and the bridge!

Day has been seized.


The Big Apple

The subway system in New York is rather confusing. Each line has many trains running on them. A train may or may not stop at every subway station on the line. So it ended up taking us two hours to get to the hotel from JKF airport. Sigh.

But we made it and that's the important thing. We explored the Rockefeller Center today and saw the fantastic daytime views of the city from the top. We also visited the Lego store, Nintendo World, M&Ms World, Toys R Us and Macy's. All these places are massive and multistoried, full of merchandise and bargains and amazing things. I purchased a Mew plushie from Nintendo World, as a shout out to my favourite Pokemon website, Psypoke, since Mew is one of our official mascots. I spent quite a bit of time there playing a Kirby game on one of the several Wiis there too - so cute!

We also caught the amazing nighttime views of the city from the Empire State Building. Totally breathtaking, being able to see the entire city from where we were, and on such a clear day as well!


Farewell Las Vegas

A city fit for the King of Rock and Roll
And whatever Queens of Pop they have these days - I can't keep up with that.
A place where the Jack Daniels flows freely
As the ten of thousands party
Till nine the next morning
Our flight leaves at eight but we've had an amazing time
Including a day trip out to one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
At a depth of over six thousand feet in some points,
The Grand Canyon was a breathtaking five star out of five experience.
Our four night stay has gone by so quickly! 
I wish it was three more.
The Bellagio Fountains, Mirage Volcano, Stratosphere, Eiffel Tower, Cirque du Soleil's O, the lights, the slots, the atmosphere... And those two buffets, oh boy.
Vegas, you're Ace. See you in New York.


Fire and Water

This city is really hot. I find myself at another McDonalds - this time at the one opposite Mandalay Bay. We've just walked in 30C heat to the famous "Welcome to fabulous Las Vegas" sign. Previously today we did the CSI Experience at MGM and looked at the sharks at Mandalay Bay, and yesterday went up the Stratosphere Tower, saw the Mirage Volcano and the Treasure Island Sirens, but the highlights of the city so far have been the Bellagio fountains and Cirque du Soleil's "O" show. Art, fashion, music, acrobatics and comedy come together in this spectacular show based in the watery stage at the Bellagio. Absolutely amazing and totally mesmerizing.

Tomorrow we will be taking a day trip out to the Grand Canyon!


Vegas, Baby

Our last day in San Francisco was pretty relaxed. Allison took us to this delicious sandwich place near the Castro called Ike's before dropping us at the airport. The flight was delayed and it also had to transit through Los Angeles so it wasn't until around 7.30pm that we landed in Vegas and around 8.30pm that we were ready to hit the Strip and find some food.

Vegas is amazingly colourful at night. As we walked down the Strip, we looked in awe at the massive hotel complexes and their accompanying neon light display, all lining the road in a brilliant display of fluorocolour awesomeness.

Also I'm at McDonalds using their wifi because the hotel doesn't have free wifi.


Opaque

Thursday was pretty relaxed. We took a look around the piers south of the Ferry Building. Not really that much to see; there were some monuments and a good view of the Bay Bridge, but the main feature of that area is the AT&T Stadium, home of the San Francisco Giants.

In the afternoon I pretty much just bummed around town since my feet were sore and I was feeling lazy. I eventually went back to the motel where Allison picked us up to go to a restaurant called Opaque.

Opaque is dining in the dark. The restaurant is underground and pitch black. You cannot see what you are eating (but you do order from a menu before hand so you at least know what most of the food items are). The serving staff are blind but they're awesome and chatty and really fun. The experience is surreal. When you take away your ability to see (and take photos) you must feel what your food is; you appreciate the textures of various foods - crispy pears, creamy aioli with a hint of wasabi, gorgeously thick chunks of beef tenderloin - and of course, the incredible flavours that tantalise your senses of smell and taste.

It's like nothing I've ever done before but the food was absolutely delicious and would highly recommend Opaque to anyone visiting San Francisco.

Allison took us to a club called Ruby Skye after dinner and we had a few drinks before hitting the dance floor briefly. It was fun but not really my scene. I was also reasonably intoxicated after three drinks of Southern Comfort and Sprite (works better with L&P actually).

Last full day in San Fran!


Fantabulous Times

So I did manage to track down the ever-elusive Steve Mariotti, who was my lead programmer on Rugby League 3, at Nihilistic Offices in Novato. It was great to see him after all these years, even if it was only for a short time. Also, Nihilistic have a cool office! There's heaps of cool concept art around the walls and newspaper clippings of media coverage they've featured in, several arcade games and a gummi bear dispenser!!

Today we returned to Japantown to find some Pokemon merchandise and zipped back to town to meet Allison for lunch at this delicious sandwich place. From there, we went to Alamo Square to see that shot of the houses from the Full House intro sequence, then to the pirate store on Valencia, and finally the Castro. Not as scandalous as the last time I was there, actually.

We met Allison for dinner and she took us up to Twin Peaks afterwards for some magnificent views of the city as the sun was setting. Despite the chilling wind, we managed to watch the light of the sun dim in the distance as the city lights began to flicker on. There was a beautiful crescent moon out and Venus the evening star close by.

This place is awesome.


Fawg

We made our way to the Golden Gate Bridge yesterday to find it shrouded in the ever-famous San Francisco fog, naturally. While this made for good photos, it also made for a bloody cold trek across the bridge. However, as we began to approach the northern end of the bridge, the sun's brilliance began to shine through and we were treated to a glorious view of the entire bridge and the whole city from Vista Point.

From there, we headed southbound to Golden Gate Park and walked around Stow Lake and the Japanese Tea Garden. Most of the places there are closed on Mondays, so we missed out on a few things that we wanted to see. From there, we walked to Japantown... And boy, Japantown was AMAZING. So many great collectables and plushies and figurines from Pokemon and Mario and Kirby and all the other awesome things that Japan makes. Definitely have to go back there to explore tmore and hopefully try some of the cuisine there too!

Met up with Allison for dinner and drinks in the evening. Got a bit tipsy after three CC & Dry's. >_> Nevertheless, feeling great and non-hangovery this morning. I will be hitching a ride with Tobias soon to visit the Nihilistic office and explore the area, and hopefully track down a certain someone whom I haven't seen in three years!


Weekend

Spent Saturday walking around the piers of San Francisco, from the ferry building to Fort Mason. Seen most of it before but we took a detour to Coit Tower and saw some amazing views of the city. Continued to Fort Mason, visiting Musee Mecanique and Fisherman's Wharf along the way and was surprised to find a wine tasting festival by the chocolate factory there. We returned to Pier 39 for the seals and some shopping, and of course, some delicious seafood for dinner. Not completely satisfied, we headed back to the Cheesecake Factory for dessert.

I met Tobias for lunch today. We took a walk around to the Haight to catch the tail end of the Bay to Breakers race, a crazy costumed 12km run from one side of the city to another. Think the Wellington Sevens except bigger, crazier and running instead of rugby. We settled at the Dolores Park to catch the annular solar eclipse. Armed with four pairs of sunglasses, we observed the day darkening as the moon obscured the sun to a magnificent crescent. Awesome stuff! There will be a lunar eclipse in two weeks and the transit of Venus too!


San Francisco, we meet again

I am typing this from my brand new iPhone4S that I purchased from the Apple store on Market and Stockton. This is really hard. Anyway, flight was noisy and not that great, but I managed to get a bit of sleep and even watched the Lion King too! Arrived safely and made our way to the motel, which is near Chinatown. Had a bit of an explore around Union Square and indulged in a Mango and Key Lime Cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory above Macy's. It was so good.

Stay tuned for more updates!


Excited about Extinction

Do you love animals? Want to do your bit for conservation? Then grab your iPhone, iTouch or iPad and download EXTINCTION SQUAD! Travel the world in search of suicidal creatures and save them with your Extinction Squad trampoline and the guidance of the one and only, Chuck Darwin!

High five to Team XS, it has been an awesome four months working with you and I'm ecstatic to see this game finally out on the App Store!

PS: I am way too excited to sleep.


Counting Down

So the project I've been working on for the past four months or so is finally in submission and we're just waiting for Apple to review it. Once that's done, it'll be out on the AppStore and you awesome people who actually read my blog will be the first to know about it. You get more points if you actually download it too. I can provide hugs and/or personalised thank you messages with the download if you so wish.

It hit me in the shower last night that my trip to the US is really close. I am really excited. Excited about the chance to travel and get away for a while. Really excited about the food. Reminiscing about all the delicious things I ate in San Francisco last year - especially that Key Lime and Mango Cheesecake, oh my goodness it was soooo good. Excited about friends I'll be catching up with and friends who I haven't met in person before. It's going to be amazing.

In short since my last update:
- saw the Avengers movie (it was awesome)
- finished the game Limbo
- still playing weekly badminton (two new recruits this Saturday!)
- average weekly alcohol consumption has increased (hopefully tolerance too)
- helped to ship a project I didn't work on (I actually just pushed buttons on a webpage) - this is now out on the App Store as DreamWorks Dragons: TapDragonDrop!
- sang "My Heart Will Go On" at karaoke on the 100th anniversary of the Titanic sinking, and scored 100% for it
- decoded a secret message that said two of my good friends are engaged (most convoluted way ever - but still better than updating your Facebook status) - congratulations to you both!
- started watching Adventure Time, Invader Zim and Samurai Pizza Cats

The days are quite short now and the cold has definitely set in. Winter is here :(


Super Face Scanning Software

(This is not an April Fools thing). From Gizmodo:

Here's a pleasant first little look at Skynet—Face.com, which develops facial recognition software, now boasts that it can pinpoint your age based on your mug alone. Let's test it out.

The software is meant for developers to use in their apps—say, a browser extension that would block certain sites when kids were on the computer. Sure it's a little eery to think a computer can know us so well, but, God, get over it. And as it turns out, it's still pretty rough around the edges.


So I tried it out (direct link here) with these pictures:



And here are the results I got:

Bearded Me:
Estimated Age: 31
Max Age: 42
Min Age: 23
Gender: Male
Glasses: true
Lips: Sealed
Mood: Happy
Smiling: false

Clean Shaven Me:
Estimated Age: 24
Max Age: 32
Min Age: 19
Gender: Male
Glasses: true
Lips: Sealed
Mood: Neutral
Smiling: false

So the natural conclusion is that I look older with facial hair. Not bad! I was 25 at the time I took the photos so it looks like the age estimation stuff isn't too bad. At least for me. What are some of your results?


Disconnected

So my phone died about a week ago, leaving me semi-disconnected from the world and suddenly realising that hey, cellphones have become such a necessity in our lives. It's not that I'm addicted to one, it's just that I'm so reliant on it being there that when it isn't, it feels like I have been majorly inconvenienced. In any case, I borrowed my flatmate's phone so I can still receive texts and calls, I just don't have everyone's number (because most of it is stored on the memory card, not the SIM card) and the phone is really difficult to use so I'm trying not to use it as much.

I've also been feeling a bit disconnected in general, which is probably from the copious amounts of overtime I've been doing at work, trying to get this project product out the door (see what I did there, Sidhe guys?). And I've got a lot of faith in this game, it's just that it's needed a lot of reworking to get it feeling good and playing well. We're almost there.

It often happens that I forget what it's like to have free time while/after I've been doing a lot of overtime. My personal projects have been progressing in tiny increments. I have something ready for Psypoke's April Fools too! Haven't been playing many games recently - still need to play Limbo and Bastion that I bought from the Steam Holiday Sales - I have been playing an old, old, old favourite called Marble Drop, made by Maxis in 1997. I really need to finish all those PS2 games that I borrowed too... sigh. Oh, does Draw Something count as a game? ¬_¬

Random ranting and first world problems list:
- This weather is depressing and the days are getting shorter.
- The new give way rules are coming into effect tomorrow and there is going to be carnage on the roads because people are stupid. Also, this is amusing.
- I went aurora spotting a few weeks ago and saw nothing. Stupid Wellington clouds.
- My credit card bill is too damn high. Probably because of those airplane tickets I bought to the US. Giggity.


Hamilton - More of a Shallow Pit than a Hole

I was in Hamilton over the weekend for a friend's wedding. We drove up on the Friday and back down again on the Sunday - a surprisingly large number of roadworks being done on State Highway 1 meant the drive took longer than expected. We had some delicious woodfire pizza in Tokoroa before reaching our destination, a holiday home on the east side of Hamilton, around 9pm. I swear it was raining moths at one point, with the stupid insects committing suicide all over the bonnet of my car. Disgusting.

Saturday was the day of the wedding. Since the ceremony was not until after lunch, we decided to check out the city center and found some nice cafes along the main road. One could have easily mistaken the scene for Cuba Street really, the food was nice, with an the atmosphere to match. I guess if you go to Hamilton with the expectation it's a horrible void of swirling toilet waste, and it turns out that, hey, there's some nice places, then you'll come away with an improved opinion of the city. The weather was nice and sunny and certainly this was a nice change from the overcast gloom of Wellington - though I suspect the weather was equally nice and sunny in our absence.

Anyway, Jono and I performed our usheral duties admirably and the ceremony went off without a hitch. The reception also went well and the food was delectable - although my only complaint is that the ham was a bit too salty! The cheesecake however, was divine, as was the pavlova, and the wedding cake, which was masterfully decorated with 6kg of white chocolate planks, was also delicious.

We stopped in Tirau for lunch at the Cabbage Tree Cafe on the way back to Wellington on Sunday. Tirau, despite its size, has some excellent cafes and certainly ranks above Hamilton in terms of character and likeability. We were home by 6pm and that gave me enough time to clean the stupid suicidal bugs off my car.

What a weekend. Congratulations to the married couple, Jono and Karlyn Dixon! Photographs are in the gallery.


Reunion Dinner

I always find myself being sentimental around Chinese New Year, mainly because I'm away from home and I'm missing all the great food you get, like yee sang and Peking duck. I try to go back to Auckland for Chinese New Year at some point during the 15 day celebration - even if I do miss the actual day of Reunion Dinner, we usually do have one and its meaning isn't diminished in any way.

This year, though, my parents are back in Malaysia and I was feeling a bit lonely when my flatmate suggested I do something special for myself. And that snowballed into making my own Reunion Dinner. I've never cooked for that many people before but it turned out well!


Spring Rolls (to appease the masses), Lettuce Wrap, Stir Fry Bok Choi and Cheese and Bacon Mussels



Roast Duck. Thank you Yans!


I know these may not necessarily usually be associated with Chinese New Year foods but I'm not that great a cook :(

To top it off for dessert, we had vanilla ice cream with Alphonso mango puree, and Jono's chocolate birthday cake.

In any case, wishing you all Gung Hei Fatt Choi in the year of the Dragon!