Sunday, June 15, 2003

The following was written while in San Francisco at the JavaOne conference. I never could get the laptop to work with the hotel phone line, so it was typed off-line in Notepad. Thus there are no links and I can't go looking things up on Google to make sure I know what I'm talking about before I write something.

Monday 6/9

I am relying completely on public transit for the ground-transportation aspects of this trip. This includes getting myself to and from the airport in Atlanta as well as getting around San Francisco.

The most difficult part of Monday was getting to the MARTA system fromo my house. Just a year ago would've involved a 2-mile walk over into DeKalb county, lugging my suitcase and this damn heavy laptop, through streets that are not particularly designed for pedestrian use. So I should consider myself fortunate that Gwinnett has since started up local bus service in my neighborhood. However, I doubt that just walking would've taken much longer.

While waiting for my first bus to arrive, I noticed that a big metal box next to the street was making "modem" noises. Every couple of minutes, it emitted the unmistable sound of an old-sk00l (9600 or less) modem handshake. I don't know why it needed to keep doing that; I guess it couldn't get a connection to whatever phone-company or gas-company or electric-company network it was supposed to be a part of. I didn't really have time to look into it any further. Its right down the street from my house so I can go listen for any time, I guess.

Gwinnett bus route 20 winds through the neighborhood streets and business parks of the Gwinett/Dekalb borderlands with the obvious intention of covering as much surface area as possible, at the expense of actually getting from point A to point B at all quickly. Once again I guess I should just be glad that one of those points A was next to my house.

In order to get to the Doraville MARTA station, I had to transfer from bus 20 to bus 10. This happens on Buford highway. I got off of 20, and realized that I was on the wrong side of the street to get on a bus going in the direction I wanted.

Some of the other passengers apparently had the same idea, because as soon as they got off the bus they dashed across. At this point Buford highway is busy 3 lanes in each direction, and I think it even has a concrete median. Jaywalking is a way of life around there (crosswalks are few and far between), but there was no way I was going to try it with my suitcase and laptop.

So I wasted quite a bit of time going to the nearest crosswalk and waiting for it to change. Once across, I realized that I didn't actually know where a bus stop was on that side of the street. So I just started walking. Every few feet there were places were the sidewalk had been torn up to work on something underneath, so I ended up just carring my suitcase instead of dragging it on its wheels. There were also a couple of places where there was no sidewalk at all. Then I saw the bus stop, and there was a bus there! Not knowing how long it would take for another one to come along, I decided that I'd better try to make this one. I ran towards the bus af fast as I could with the load I was carrying, waving my arms like an idiot in the hope that they would see me and wait for me. It worked, but the wound to my dignity still hasn't healed.

The MARTA train ride was uneventful. I actually stopped by work to spend an hour or so putting out fires before going away.

I was surprised at how quickly I got through security at the airport. It took a lot longer to check in with my airline and get my tickets than it did to get through security. Except for the new TSA uniforms, it didn't seem all that different from the last time I flew, in 1999.

When I got off the plane in SFO and was walking through the airport trying to find the bus stop, I saw their security checkpoint and it looked like they were opening everybody's bags and "wanding" every person. I need to plan for that to take longer when I leave SFO than it did in Atlanta.

As soon as I stepped outside the airport, I noticed how much cooler it was than it had been in Atlanta. This part of the country is naturally air-conditioned.

Later this month, the BART line will be extended all the way to the airport. Unfortunately, I can't wait till the end of this month! Samtrans (the airport is located in San Mateo county) offers a couple of different options to get from the airport to downtown San Francisco. The most obvious is KX, an express bus straight to downtown. However, there was a sign at the bus stop that said something to the effect that you can't bring luggage on bus KX! Who the hell needs a ride from the airport and DOESN'T have luggage? Then there was 292, which is normal local bus service all the way from the airport to downtown. I wasn't too thrilled about the number of stops that such a bus would probably make. So I opted for BX, which goes directly from the airport to the nearest operational BART station at Colma.

Route BX arrived about 10 minutes later than the schedule said it would, and it was already full of people. I ended up standing all the way to the BART station, which was fine with me because I'd been sitting down for about 6 hours on the plane that day. The bus took I-280 most of the way, and the view was quite impressive. The road was often up on the side of a mountain looking down at row after row of perfect little California houses, with very few trees to block the view like there would be back east.

In what I think was part of Daly City, I saw a Home Depot with its own parking garage. They don't even have one of those in Buckhead!

Unlike MARTA, BART actually charges different amounts of money depending on how far you go. You have to get a ticket when you get on, and then re-swipe the same ticket when you get off.

Not much too see from the train. Except for an interesting elevated portion in downtown Daly City, the BART line is mostly in a trench or a tunnel.

Walking up Powell street from Market to Union Square, one of the most striking things to me was probably not what strikes most people. Yes, the cable cars were cool. Yes, the trolleys on Market Street were cool too. Yes, there were a lot of touristy little businesses and restaurants along the way (it was almost like the French Quarter, without the smell).

But what impressed me most was the big-name department stores. Apparently this is a downtown that actually functions as a major shopping destination, and not just for tourists. This is what downtowns were *for* back in my grandparents day, but in this day and age its a rarity. Many places have tried to artificially (re)create such a downtown shopping district, but in San Franisco it is real!

Tuesday 6/10

I got up to make it to the conference in time for the 8:30 keynote speaches. By the time I was done checking in and getting my badge, there was a friggin huge line to get into the presentation room, so I said to hell with it went back to the hotel. Once there, I took a look at the badge I'd just been issued and realized that they'd mistaenly given me an orange "pavilion guest" badge instead of the blue "conference badge". Paranoid that this might take some time to sort out (including the possibility that I in my dumbassed-ness had actually purchased the wrong thing when I signed up over the net), I immediately went back. As soon as the woman at the desk saw the badge, she knew it was messed up because the badge number was in the wrong range of numbers to really be an orange badge. They quickly issued me a blue one, and I walked back towards the hotel.

I now a couple of hours to kill. I started walking north on Powell from the hotel, and it quickly became a steep uphill climb. Earlier, I'd seen several cable cars go by that didn't appear to have a lot of people on them, so I figured it ought to be pretty easy to get a seat on one to take me up that hill. Unfortunately the crowd seemed to have found them by this time, as I waited for two different cars only to find them so full that the driver wouldn't let anybody else on.

So I just kept walking. When I made it to the top of the hill (Nob Hill, I think), I was presented with a downhill slope that appeared to stretch all the from where I was standing to the end of the peninsula. I could see mountains in the far distance, but they appeared to be in Marin county. It occurred to me that the cable cars that I'd seen headed south *from* the Fisherman's Wharf area looked less crowded than the ones going north. From where I was standing, it looked like it would be an easy down-hill walk to the turn-around at the end of Hyde Street.

It turned out to be further than it looked, but it was in fact mostly downhill. I skirted the edges of Chinatown and North Beach, following first Powell and then Columbus. Eventually I wound up at the end of Hyde. I still had some time, so I decided to explore the Hyde Street Pier before getting on the cable car.

The Hyde Street Pier was once the terminal for ferries to Marin county, and actually carried the designation of US 101 before the Golden Gate Bridge was built. It is now a historic park and the home of several historic sail and steam ships. You have to pay to actually go in the ships, and I decided not to do it. Instead I wasted money on a harmonica from the gift shop next to the pier. I had some crazy idea of reliving my college days when I used to play a harmonica as I was walking to class every day. After playing a few songs there at the pier, I haven't messed with again. (This is being written three days after the events described)

Turns out that by this time of day (around 13:00) there was actually a pretty long line of people to get on the cable car at the turnaround. But at least getting on there guarantee's that you will eventually make it onto a car, even if you have to wait in line for several cars to fill up and go before its your turn. All of us tourists standing in line for the car were tortured by a guy playing guitar for spare change. He spent most of his time trying to get the crowd to sing along with him, complaining about it when nobody sang, and yelling back at heckling kids. Right next to him another guy with a guitar appeared to be setting up to play. They must take turns or something.

I decided to hang onto the outside of the car instead of riding inside it. There were a few places where posts set up in the street to keep drivers from changing lanes actually brushed against me as we went past them. The view was excellent.

Things I learned at JavaOne:

The second edition of Core J2EE Patterns is out. I picked up a copy at the conference bookstore. Now I'm more up-to-date than all the people back at work that have the old one.

British pronunciation of 'urinal' is your-EYE-nal.

Wednesday 6/11

In preparation for Collections Connection framework, I went to the bookstore and bought a copy of Effective Java for Joshua Bloch to sign. Most of the people at work will think I already had a copy, and that I'm nuts for buying another one, but that one actually belongs to my employer since I got them to pay for it. Effective Java is the kind of book that you want to be able to take with you from job to job anyway.

They have some 1980's video games set up for free play. The high score on the Ms. Pacman machine was depressingly low, proving that even some of the geekiest people in the world can no longer play Pacman effectively without the now-standard speedup mod. I also remember play a game of Galaxian at some point during this trip, and all it did was make me wish that it was Galaga (everybody knows that the "invaders" genre was perfected with Galaga)

Thursday 6/12

Had some more spare time, so I took the F-line (insert link here when I get online) to the ferry building, and then rode the ferry to Alameda and Oakland. I had absolutely no destination in either Alameda or Oakland, and just rode the same boat straight back to San Francisco. It was a very enjoyable trip. We went under the Bay Bridge, and passed pretty close to the largest intermodal port I've ever seen, where huge container ships were being loaded and unloaded.

JavaOne quote of the day. During a discussion about entity beans, the typical 'employee' example was augmented by the introduction of a 'spouse' object for each employee. When the UML was displayed, the presenter said:

'Presumably, spouses are objects to which employees are related in some way'

Hopefully not TOO closely related. We don't want any two-headed, eleven-fingered kids in our J2EE applications.

Friday 6/13

Having seen the bay, I now decided to skip the keynote again and go see the real Pacific ocean before I leave town. I caught Muni bus 38 right outside my hotel, and finally got to see some un-glamorous, un-touristy, un-gentrified parts of San Francisco. It still looks better than the equivalent parts of, say, Atlanta. I overheard some people on the bus tell the driver that they wanted to go to the Cliff House restaurant, so I decided to follow them when they got off so I could see the place.

Brandon and I had planned to eat there on Friday night because they apparently have a camera obscura room, but at the last minute we'd found out that the camera obscura would be closed because of renovations. But I was still curious to see the place from the outside.

I ended up eating at the nearby, much less expensive, and only slightly less historic Louie's. Louie's survived the 1966 fire that destroyed the Sutro baths to which it was once connected.

The ruins of the baths themselves are impressive. Its hard to believe that they're less that 40 years old. They look just as ancient as the Roman-era ruins at Bath, England. Right on the edge of the ocean, with a calm pool of water actually inside the remains of the walls. The rocky cliffs covered with some kind of purple flowers. Seagulls everywhere. Barking of seals and/or sea lions from the "seal rocks" offshore, which can be observed with telescopes. After looking at all this stuff, I spent some time walking along Great Highway next to the beach.

The entire experience was sufficiently different from anything I'd ever seen before that now only a few hours later it almost feels hard to believe it was real. I think yesterday's ferry ride (especially the way the bay bridge looked from underneath) is the same, now. This is also the way I felt the day after the first motorboat ride I can remember taking as a child.

On the way back from the beach, the bus was much more crowded. At one point a woman limped on board the bus saying "oh shit! that leg came outta the socket again". She quickly forgot about her dislocated leg, though, engaging in normal but loud and spirited conversation with other people. When she got off the bus, she started yelling about her leg again.

After the conference, I met Brandon and Stephen at the Caltrain station and we took a taxi to a restaurant that somebody had recommended to Brandon. It was good, but I was still hungry afterwards. We then went to the Sony Metreon, which has got to be the geekiest pseudo-mall I've ever seen. They have:

A store that sells mostly bigass flatscreen TVs.
A store that sells stuff like Walkmen and digital cameras.
A store that sells mostly comic-book-related action figures.
A store that sells Playstation games.
A store devoted entirely to EverQuest.
A Games Workshop store.
A video arcade, including a 'retro room'.
Jelly Belly stores on two different levels of the mall.
A food court, where I had cheesecake.

And that's about it. Absolutely nothing non-techy. It makes sense, I guess, since Sony owns the place. But you'd think they'd rent some space to at least one normal store.

The games at the arcade didn't take quarters. You have to buy some kind of card, and I didn't feel like messing with it, so we just walked around and looked at the games. There was a non-operation "Space Invaders" game, and we noticed that the invaders depicted on the side of the cabinet were very different from those in the actual game. Space Invaders has been gone from mainstream U.S. arcades for so long that probably nobody under 35 can remember what the cabinet looked like, only knowing the game from home console versions. The invaders on the cabinet looked like giant humanoids, which were apparently either very hairy or covered with flames and/or sparks. They looked like that electricity ghost from Scooby Doo! Seriously. And they were depicted as each carrying a long javelin-like missile that they intended to throw at the player! Its impossible to tell whether they are supposed to be flying, walking, or what, but what if the reason they march like that is because they really are supposed to be marching, ON THE GROUND. Maybe the whole game takes place on the ground, except for the flying saucers which are presumably above a horizon that the primitive graphics made no attempt to depict.

Can you imagine what it would have been like if the game had really looked like *THAT* ? No more of the bugs, skulls, etc. that everybody thinks of when they think of space invaders. The impact on later generations of games, gamers, and geek culture in general would be huge and hard to predict. If somebody actually made a game now that looked like that, and called it a modern version of Space Invaders, nobody would accept it as such!

I have now, in the course of this trip, employed all of the following modes of transportation:

regular old bus (MARTA, Muni)
rubber-tire bus powered by overhead wires (Muni)
streetcar powered by overhead wires (Muni F-Line)
cable car
'rapid transit' trains (MARTA, BART)
737 and 777 jets
moving sidewalk (at Chicago airport)

Ok, maybe the moving sidewalk is reaching a little. The only portions of San Francisco's transit system that I didn't use were:

Muni N-Line: tracks in street, overhead power.. only difference from F-line is modern trainsets.

Saturday 6/14

Waiting for the BART train from Powell to Colma, I noticed that BART rail is wide-gauge, or at least it looks like it is.

On the bus ride back to the airport, I noticed that a stop light whose only purpose could be to stop traffic already on the ramp from getting on the freeway. This doesn't make sense. It appeared to be completely off: no red, no green, nothing.

Near the airport, this was written on a hillside in huge letters:


Anticipating a huge security delay, I arrived at the airport THREE AND A HALF HOURS before my flight. Things went pretty smoothly, and now I have all this wonderful time to spend at the airport terminal. This is being written while drinking coffee at a restaurant in the terminal.