Monday, April 20, 2009

Saturday, April 18, 2009

San Francisco, CA - Day 4/5

In April I travelled to San Francisco, CA for a research conference. I had two presentations to give and in my free time I got to see the city. Here is a narrative of my explorations, and a video montage of my photos is already posted.

Day 4:
So today I slept in (more or less) and then packed my stuff and checked out. I left my luggage at the hotel and hopped the cable car back to the waterfront/Fisherman's Wharf. From there I found my way to Ghirardelli Square. A little history: Domingo Ghirardelli founded his company in 1852 making them the 2nd oldest chocolate company in the US. He bought a whole city block on Fisherman's Wharf in order to build Ghirardelli Square- a series of shops and restaurents incorporated with the HQ of Ghirardelli Chocolates. It was since bought out, moved, and refurbished, but still cool. I bought some chocolates to share with people back home and headed to the Buena Vista Cafe. This was the home of the Irish Coffee in the US. The people at the Buena Vista Cafe wanted to recreate the Irish Coffee they had in Ireland and after countless trials and a trip back to Ireland they perfected it: Keep hot water in a 6oz glass until use, empty the water, add two sugar cubes, fill three quarters with coffee, fill up with Tullamore Dew, and top with lightly whipped whipping cream. I had one... pretty good, you can totally taste the whiskey, but not my cup of tea... bad pun...

So, from there I headed to my Segway Tour. Honestly, I looked like a complete tool on the Segway, with my safety vest and helmet... with 9 other tools. But whatever. It was fun to learn how to use a Segway, and then take it out on the streets and get a guided tour of the downtown area. One of my favorite trivia facts was that there was a shore-side holding prison for prisoners on their way to Alcatraz. The regulations were to have 5 prisoners before taking a boat to Alcatraz. Well, there were two people who were stuck at this hell hole of a temporary prison for a year and a half- oh red tape! Anyways, lot of fun in the sun... maybe... too much time in the sun? After finishing the tour I headed back down to the Wharf for some food before calling it a day and heading to the hotel and the airport. Soooo.... I stopped by Hooters. Now wait- there used to be a Hooters in Albany and back in high school we'd go there after volleyball games and I love LOVE LOVED their buffalo shrimp... mmmmmmmm. So, seeing the Hooters made me feel like I had to go. Hot buffalo shrimp and curly cheese fries. Amazing. Filled my belly and headed back to the cable car, the hotel, and then the airport via BART.

So, my flight was supposed to be on US Airways. So I follow the signs to US Airways. I try to self check in, and the machine says I'm not on US Airways- I'm on United. Um, what? So I go to the lady and she doesn't speak English and keeps telling me I'm on United. I read her the US Airways flight number and she keeps repeating herself. Fine. She tells me to walk to the other end of the terminal for United. Fine. I get there and its only for United First Class. Everyone else is in another terminal. Thanks. If I had known I was walking halfway around this massive airport I would have hopped back on the tram. Whatever. I check in, go through security, stock up on snacks for the plane, grab dinner, and wait for the plane. The flight is fine, I doze off, but wake up with some serious sunburn.

Day 5:
We land in Philly early Sunday morning and my arms are on FIRE. Apparently three hours in the sun on a Segway will do that. PAIN! So I get some breakfast and scour the airport for aloe. I find burn cream, which didn't help, so I kept looking. I finally found some in a "Men's Kit" so I had all this other stuff I didn't need, but whatever, I needed some aloe vera. Finally hop the flight back to Albany, collect my bags, back to the car and home with no problems. Except my arms! On FIRE! Thankfully Katie took a walk to CVS and bought some aloe vera cooling gel for me and I was able to relax.

In all, San Francisco was a pretty cool city. There were a lot of homeless people in the area I was staying at, but at least they were creative. The weather was warm, but windy, and I LOVED the Wharf and Union Square- I could totally spend tons of time at those places. But, there's no place like home!

Friday, April 17, 2009

San Francisco, CA - Day 3

In April I travelled to San Francisco, CA for a research conference. I had two presentations to give and in my free time I got to see the city. Here is a narrative of my explorations, and a video montage of my photos is already posted.

Day 3:
I sit on a committee that reviews grant applications for graduate student research- its a small committee- 4 people. They had a meeting set for this morning at 9AM Eastern. That's 6AM Western. I felt bad not being able to discuss the applications so I emailed them and said I could call in for the meeting. But I didn't send that email until I was at the Butterfly, which was after close of business. So, being the nice guy I am, I woke up in time for the meeting assuming they'd email me a number to call in to, and sure enough they did. Finished the meeting, and got ready for the last day of the conference. I headed over to the convention center and listened to a couple talks, and then checking out more exhibits. I really liked their NanoArt exhibit- much more impressive than CNSE's NanoArt exhibit, but they had a LOT more people to draw from. I also talked to some educational outreach guy since we've been looking for new ideas for activities and demonstrations for when we have middle and high school students visit. Then I hit up Starbuck's for breakfast, and went back to the convention center for more talks, and then breaked for lunch. I went across the street to a little mall and settled upon Jillian's. Again, I sat at the bar and had a drink. It was a really good panini. It was the first panini that was grilled PERFECTLY- the bread was nice and consistently brown- amazing. I also opted for some scotch after my meal and (after consulting the price list) settled on a double of Johnnie Walker Gold. Sooooo good, and much cheaper than the Macallan I had the other day. I had a couple of more talks to hear, and then my second presentation. This was my actual research and went really well. The questions I had were much more constructive and curious so I was really happy. After that I headed back to my hotel to change.

At this point it was 4PM on a BEAUTIFUL Friday afternoon in downtown San Francisco. I had noticed a person I was following on Twitter (the "internet famous" @JuliaAllison and @MeghanAsha) was in San Francisco, and in the Union Square area. So I tried to find them with them, with no luck. But, there were tons of local artists out in Union Square and I found a couple that I liked. I picked up some art from a street artist in Barcelona and hung it in my bedroom and LOVE it. I decided to make it a habit to buy art when I travel so I can decorate my place and have stories to tell. So I bought some from people in SF with a wine focus. The funny thing was that they weren't allowed to sell art in the Square. They could SHOW art, but not sell it. We had to walk to the sidewalk for the transaction. I felt like I was buying drugs, not art. Awesome. Dropped the art at the room and got ready for dinner.

I had a list of nightlife spots I wanted to hit up. "Sway" was a whiskey bar, "Press Club" was a wine bar, and there was a dance club that I can't remember the name for. I decided that since I'm in California, and I don't have time to visit the wine country, I would hit up the Press Club. The problem was the place appeared to be very upscale. So, I dressed up a little bit and headed over to the Press Club. The Press Club is a wine bar that rents out bays to wineries- 6 of them- who do tastings and retail of their products. There is also a common bar that also serves food, and plenty of lounge seating. When you walk in you are set up with a hotel key card (more or less) and whenever you want to taste a wine, or order anything you hand over that card and it is added to your tab. So I go in, and sit at the common bar and order a "flight" which is three wines paired with three types of cheese. AMAZING. But not very filling, so I follow this up by ordering a dessert flight of three mini cupcakes paired with three more wines. Also amazing. The best one, hands down, was this pear walnut cake with a light brie frosting. I'm still drooling over it. After I finished this one (second of three) this lady next to me started asking about them, and talked about how much fun they looked. She was with her husband and seemed harmless. Our conversation ended when their food came. I finished and headed over to the bays. I first stopped by the Chateau Montelena bay. This is the winery that won the famous 1976 "Paris Tasting" featured in the movie "Bottle Shock" that put California on the wine map. I had tasted their wine (twice) during my meal so I ordered a bottle of their wine, and headed over to the Miner Family Vineyard- it was featured in the looped infomercial in my hotel room so I figured it must be good! I blindly ordered a bottle of their wine as well and got ready to head out. Before I could, the lady who was next to me at the bar stopped me and started with "This is going to sound really weird..." Um, yup! But go on. Basically, she had a sister/niece/friend she wanted to hook me up with since I look "cute, fashionable, and intelligent" and wanted to know if I was "single, straight, and local" - in that order. I of course had to decline but was flattered. It was really nice, and I checked out, picked up my bottles of wine and headed back to my room. The food wasn't all that filling so I ended up hitting up Burger King before hitting the hay.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

San Francisco, CA - Day 2

In April I travelled to San Francisco, CA for a research conference. I had two presentations to give and in my free time I got to see the city. Here is a narrative of my explorations, and a video montage of my photos is already posted.

Day 2:
I woke up bright and early (mostly because of jet lag) and got ready to start my day as super tourist. I had planned to start my day by window shopping around the famous Union Square. Judging by the maps I had, basically every big name retailer had a store front in the 9 block area around the square. The problem was, I was out and about by 9AM and nothing opened before 10AM. Woops. So I grabbed a juice from a coffee shop and chilled in the open air mall watching the farmer's market unfold until 10AM. There were a lot of awesome stores (Diesel, Ralph Lauren, Brooks Brothers) but I realized I couldn't afford anything at any of the places. I was about to move on when I saw a sign that said "PINK" and no, it wasn't Victoria's Secret (that was on the other side of the square). It was for Thomas J. Pink, a store I found when I was in London- where the company was founded. (Check out Wikipedia for more information). I don't know what it was about the place in London that I loved so much- I was in the St. James Square area and was going from store to store of high end men's clothing and I ended up in the famous Jermyn Street store (I didn't realize it was famous until much later) and just loved the place. I couldn't afford much, so I bought a polo and was content. Seeing the store in SF made me smile so I stopped in. Now, I said everything around Union Square was expensive, and PINK was no exception- even with the exchange rate, the one in London was cheaper. Oh well. I broke down and bought another polo from them. Someday, when I have money, I'll frequent that place.

From PINK, I went back to the hotel, ate leftovers from Cheesecake Factory, and then headed out for a cable car ride to the waterfront. So, maybe I'm dumb, or maybe its a tourist trap, or maybe both. But the cable car is $5 one way, $11 all day. So I pay for all day. Yet... I'm only taking it to the waterfront and back, so two one way tickets would have been cheaper. Doh! In hindsight, the cable cars are really cool (I'm still fascinated about how they work) yet terribly inefficent for real mass transport, but I didn't feel like figuring out the bus lines. So I get to Fisherman's Wharf and start looking around. The place was hopping! Lots of people (read: tourists) and street performers, lots of food and stuff to do. I loved it! It was like a festival, and thinking about it, the place must be a festival all year long because it was a random Thursday afternoon! If it was a weekend (which I will eventually experience) in the summer, the place would be crazy. So I walked around, took some pictures, and happened across a submarine sitting at the dock. It was like $5 to tour it, so I figured, why not? It was pretty cool (and $5 was worth it) but it really made me realize how scary is must have been to be at war in one of those things. You can't imagine how cramped it is, and this was as a tour boat. If it was full of sailors, if the place was up and running... maddness. I have so much respect for submariners. I've been on the USS Slater in Albany, and it was similar, but to have those condition UNDER water? Wow.

From there I meandered down the piers until I got to the pier for the Alcatraz ferry, checked in, and still had an hour and a half to kill so I went to nearby fancy-ish place called "Butterfly". I sat at the bar, ordered a drink and some soup (light lunch I guess), enjoyed it (it was very good!) and caught up on emails. After my soup I decided to have some scotch and ordered a Macallan on the rocks. The bartender reaches for the 18 year bottle- whatever- until I got the bill: that was a $35 shot! WOW. Check please! Got in line for the ferry and headed over to Alcatraz, got set up with an audio tour and explored the island. That place is so cool, so much history- from being a fort, to a military prison, to a federal prison, to a demonstration site for Native Americans, to a national park. Its very interesting, and it seems so much older than it is. The buildings are literally crumbling from the elements, yet its less than 50 years old. In fact, one of the last prisoners was at the gift shop signing books. Really cool. After a couple of hours I headed back to the mainland, and then back to the cable car and my hotel. I grabbed more snacks and dinner from Tad's Steakhouse and relaxed in my room.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

San Francisco, CA - Day 1

In April I travelled to San Francisco, CA for a research conference. I had two presentations to give and in my free time I got to see the city. Here is a narrative of my explorations, and a video montage of my photos is already posted.

Day 1:
My first flight out was set to leave at 5:40AM out of Albany. That meant that I needed to be there by like 4:40AM at the latest. That is so early I couldn't bring myself to ask anyone to drive me. Instead, I drove myself and parked in the "Economy Lot" which is basically in the middle of no where. Now, I get nervous about being late and missing flights in general so I got a little nervous when after parking I noticed the shuttle back to the airport leaving the lot- I had no idea when the next one came. After waiting a little bit another one came, and I headed to the US Airways counter. The lady asked where I'm travelling to- "San Francisco through Philly." "Oh, your flight was cancelled!" (She cheerily replies.) Um, not cool? Oh, its OK, they got me onto a flight at 1PM. a) I could have gotten a lot more sleep if I was on that flight, and b) I have a presentation to give at 2PM so that doesn't work. I ask if there are any other flights out of Albany I can get on. She tells me she looked, and there is nothing out. Surrrreee. So I take her tickets, take out my laptop, find the number for my institution's travel agent, and like THAT they get me on a 6AM United Airlines flight through Chicago O'Hare that gets to SF by 11AM. Perfect. They tell me to go to US Airways to get a partial refund and then check in at United. Well, by this point the Albany Airport is PACKED and yet there are only two people helping everyone at US Air. Great. Eventually I get there and find out they can't refund until AFTER I travel. Thanks. I run over to United and the line is CRAZY long. By this point its like 5:15AM and I still have to get through security. Luckily, since I wasn't checking a bag I didn't have to wait in the line! Whew! I get upstairs to security and there is another long line! Now, I've flown out of Albany many times, but usually around 10AM, and there is literally NO LINE. This line had gone through all the zig zags and was headed towards the parking garage. Great. By the time I get to the checkpoint I look back the line had doubled! I realize, if I was checking a bag, I wouldn't have made this flight. As it is, I have like 15 minutes to go through security and get to the gate before they close the door. Great. I don't even bother with my shoes and JUST make it. Whew. Except, I now realize, I'm going through O'Hare- the black hole/abyss of airports. The last time I flew was through O'Hare and my flight was delayed by two hours, finally got to Albany and had to divert to Syracuse because of fog. But by the time we got there the airport was closed, and by the time someone got there to let us off our only option was to take taxis back to Albany. Ohhhh boy...

Anyways, I make it to O'Hare, and then to SF with no problems. I get into SF and have no trouble making it to the BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) and then to my hotel. I stayed at the Union Square Hotel since the hotels that the conference was offering were really expensive. I took a chance with this place- it had a LOT of bad reviews, and people were freaked out about the area. But these were old reviews, and one recent review was GLOWING about their recent renovations. So, I went with my gut, since I always believe that people will leave negative reviews over anything, but hardly spend time going online to leave positive reviews. I was VERY happy with this hotel. Very nice interior, the room was a little small, but very trendy, clean, and new. And the staff were SO nice and helpful. I can honestly say this was my favorite hotel I've ever stayed at. Thank you Union Square Hotel and Personality Hotels!

After unpacking, cooling off, relaxing a bit and unwinding, I made the 3 block walk to the convention center. The conference I was at was at the Moscone Convention Center West- apparently there are North and South buildings as well. I checked in, looked around the vendor exhibits, and headed up to the session that the professor from my school was organizing. I listened to a couple of talks and then set up for my first presentation. This one wasn't even my research- it was research that a previous student in our lab did, and was submitted by students in our collaborator's group who ended up not being able to attend. Since I was going anyways I said I could give this talk too. The talk was fine, but there were some holes in the research that our collaborators did with computer simulations and some people in the crowd latched on to it. Oh well. I stayed around for a little while longer and then moved over to the conference hotel where a keynote was being given.

The keynote was being given by Walter Kohn, Ph.D. who recieved the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1998. I was really excited to hear from a Nobel Prize winner- someone who was on the level of some of my idols Watson, Crick, Feynman, Einstein, etc. He only talked for like 5 minutes before turning it over to a video on the sun, energy, etc. He said after the video he'd take question. Not really what I was looking for so I bailed halfway through the video and went back to my room. I changed, and looked for food. I didn't feel like going out but also didn't want the Burger King across the street. So, I called in an order to Cheesecake Factory, and did some errands to pick up some snacks and drinks. I spent the night planning my next few days and ended up calling it an early night.