2012-10-20

Vising San Francisco for Google Mentors Summit

As a mentor in the Google Summer of Code I'm currently visiting San Francisco (Mountain View/Sunnyvale/San Jose) on an invitation from Google.

I'm mostly posting on Google+ up to now, so I'll link the biggest postings here and make this into a proper blog entry later. So keep looking at this posting to see what happens in the next 7 days.


Google+ "twitter like" postings as things happen:
  • Otterbox reacted to my Google+ posting about a small issue on the train to the airport.
  • Discovered I can now access a small number of the many us-residents-only Google services.
  • First day  (Arrival, pool party)

posting being updated as things happen

Preparations

Currency: Ordered some cash from my bank. Informed my credit card company that I'll be travelling and that suddenly using the card in the US is not unexpected behavior leading to the card being locked up in automatic fraud detection.

Internet: As a T-Mobile Germany customer roaming in T-Mobile US is surprisingly expensive. So I originally planned to have a T-mobil prepaid SIM-card shipped to the hotel. This would have worked online if it didn't turn out that they would not accept my credit card. Probably because I the billing address is different. Impossible to enter a non-US billing address. One of the other mentors got me a card in a shop and handed it to me on the pool party after arriving. Thanks for that!

Transportation: Originaly planned for public transport with an online-ordered week pass. Ordered a super shuttle to share with 2 other mentors instead.

Power: Checked all gear to work on 110V AC. Only the electric toothbrush doesn't. One Schuko adapter plug and a smaller one that doesn't carry safety ground.

 First day

 Otterbox: Took a serveral hour train ride to Frankfurt(M) airport. On the train ride the lid on my extremely heavyly used and extremely sturdy Otterbox Defender broke. I posted a short paragraph about it on Google+. Guess what comment I found after arriving and having hotel internet later?
"Otterbox: We might be able to send one of our local reps to bring you some replacement belt clips."
Now that is customer service! Go Otterbox!

Got a tourist guide at the airport. Forgot a tiny, chinese leatherman style tool in my laptop bag. It was supposed to be in the checked in luggage. Had to have the tool thrown into the trash.
Not because of the very tiny knife...but because it had pliers!!!

Met an three other mentor at the airport, taking the same flight. No chance to get to them during the actual flight.

Plane: was cramped. Lots of being buckled in due to turbulences. Having a seat at the window provided for a great view and some photos. I didn't think about the windows being incredibly dirty and having little opportunity to leave my seat because 2 other people would have to wind themself out of their small seats for that.




Immigration: Arriving in the US the waiting line for non-residents for the first of 3 security checkpoints took ages.
I crossed dozens of borders in my live any never had such a bad experience with customs and border control. 3 people handling 4 fully seated panes. A dozen additional stations unmanned.

Hotel: looks nice and small. Pool and fitness room but no saune as you'd expect in a european hotel.
Minor issues with the room (can't figure out how to get the shower to anything but hot+off or cold+on).

Pool party: When I arrived there was a pool party with free food (very spicy), beer and wine. One US made "German style" beer wasn't half bad. Tons of other mentors to talk to but jet lag is a bitch. Got my SIM card.


Summit Day One

Jet lag: It's early in the morning but I can't sleep anymore. Writing this blog post, shower, then maybe I'll try the fitness room...
Finally figured out the shower. You have to turn that thing past cold to reach hot. Simply can't adjust the pressure at all. Very unintuitive. The pool outside is heatet. Had a nice chat with 2 German and one Croatian mentor while swiming off the jet lag. Waiting for breakfast at Google HQ.

Intenet: Tried the new SIM card. Works. 2G is terribly slow. Switched to $3/day for 200MB 4G/3G online. Had to pay $5 for today instead of just the $1 difference. Still unsure about the different understanding that 2G=GSM/GPRS, 3G=UMTS/HSDPA+HSUPA and 4G=LTE in Europe, something else here.
Google Maps on Android switched to miles without asking. Can't make sense of walking distances anymore. Issue is known. There is no way to switch it to metric units. FUCK!!!

TV: looking around the TV channels. I never thought it could be hard to get international news. Except for one documentary everything is so US centric (more so then even expected). Aparently it is considered news that "more and more customers are international..and they use social media".
Less spam about election here and election there in the TV then what I am bombarded with online all the time. (Would they just shut up, elect a president and tell us who it is. DONE. Just like every other country on this planet.)
I am under the impression that being forced to think international in the European Union  was the best thing that could happen to us at home. Since you have to support other countries, languages and currencies (pre-Euro and now still the UK-Pound) anyway it makes no sense to exclude the rest of the world in anything for us. Here it's like the rest of the planet doesn't even exist. Adresses are assumed to contain a state as a mandatory field. Credit cards assumed to have US residential addesses. Adresses have no country field. Phone numbers only one format and no international prefix ever.
Being locked into their own bullshit imperial metrics, AM/PM times and strange date formats (day/month/year) doesn't help.

Swimming: Excersized a bit with a Romanian, then swam and talked with 2 Germans. We are the only people with compatible jet lag to do such a thing at that hour.

Shuttle: to breakfast at the Google Campus was late. There where supposed to be shuttles every 15 minutes starting at 8:00. First shuttle came at 8:45. It was something that could happen only at Google.
The shuttle had Google colored interior lighting and ...Wifi. ...and power sockets. ...and wide tables for laptops. ...and a restroom.


Google Campus: Tons of very creative food. Especially in the BBQ later. Finding the rooms for the sessions took security a lot of extra work because they had to make sure us mentors never wandered into any region of the building where where not supposed to be in.


Visited the Google store but didn't find anything. Usefull things where very expensive. Nice things where Google labeled instead of Android (Sorry, I don't wear company names.), for women or again too expensive.

A great deal of talking with a great deal of very interesting people.
They had some strange birds that took the role of the pesting sparrows, sea gulls or pigeons we have at one. Made some photos but it was difficult to get them in the sunlight to see the shimmering green feathers. They prefered to stay in the shadows.
Didn't get to see much of the campus as where where not supposed to wander around.





Androids: During the lunch break there was supposed to be a group walking to the famous Androids in the garden. I looked and looked but couldn't find that group and missed it. :( Would have loved a photo of me in front of them.

chocolate:  Today we're supposed to bring chocolate from all over the world.


Group photo: I was supposed to bring my camera with the super sharp Leica lens for the group photo.  In the end someone else did it with a very old Canon camera. I did one with mine as well but everyone looked slightly to the left into his camera. He told me, he hopes that everything would be in focus as he used manual focus and 1/40th of a second. I used 1/640th and was further away using the extremely fast and accurate 240fps autofocus to not have this issue.

Best Buy: Went with 2 others to Best Buy. Quite small. They got themself 3 Kindles. I didn't find anything I could use. On the way back we stopped by a pharmacy bcause the spicy food of the last day had caused an allergic reaction. I noticed one thing while shopping:
At home you know the brands, the packaging and colors. So it takes you a glimps and you know what all shelves in an aisle are about.
Here you don't recognize anything. You take a single shelf at a time. The large names don't tell you anything. So you have to actually read the finer print, telling you what the purpose of a thing is of a number of items to know what to except in a shelf. One item at a time, one shelf at a time.
Finally found what we're looking for.

Home Depot: Walked 40min to and 40min back from Home Depot at 20:00. Missed the food (still hurting due to excessive eating). Got myself a very heavy set of thread cutters. 1/2"-13NC, 3/8"-16NC, 5/16"-18NC and 1/4"-20NC. Also 5/32" to 1/2" hex sockets (opposite of the hex keys I already have) and a 15 pieces, imperial, titanium drill bit set. Also 1/4-20 T-nuts (get a metal thread into a wood piece) and 2 small 1/4" threaded rods.
All the tools a metric rebel needs to sabotage imperial star destroyers.



Otterbox: No reply yet. Asked the receptin and they did not get any deliveries.

Summit Day Two  

Yosemite: Have to pack everything and check out before heading for Google.

Otterbox: Got an email (on a sunday!!!) asking about where to meet to get a replacement belt clip. They are leaving it for me at the hotel reception (in person) as this is the simplest option given my travel arrangements. I've never seen such a great level of customer service. I didn't even ask for such a thing. I just mentioned the accident on G+ and they suddenly asked me.

Android: Had a few minutes for myself and finally managed to do self portraits in front of the famous Android figures. ...in 3D!

Group: Looks like we are now 5 instead of 4 people. 4 indians, 1 belgian and myself. Quite interesting to talk about bollywood movies with people from india. :) Got a slightly bigger car. Else our luggage would hardly fit.

Trip: Jet lag kicked in hard. I could only navigate using the phone but not drive. Stopped by at a Red Robert burger on the way. Ice tea was bad and the burgers took ages. On the wall they had hung up everything they could find in terms of images. Keith Herring next to Mickey Mouse next to Leonardo Da Vincy next to 1960th advertisements.

Yosemite Inn: Free Wifi and it looks like they have the same strange shower controls where you can't change the temperature and amount of water independently. Will have to get used to that.

Yosemite on Monday

Jet lag: Finally seems to get better. Was able to sleep again after waking up way too early.

Breakfast: Very basic self-service breakfast in the Inn...but they had DIY waffles!!!! :)
Thinking aout river rafting but the weather is very cool and rainy and it's quite expensive. Planning what to do all day in this weather.

Yosemite: It rained all day and the fog was obscuring the higher mountains. Still took a metric ton of 2D and 3D photos. Quite impressed that the deer are not minding the people at all. They literary graze next to you and walk past without giving so much as a glance to the noisy tourists.

Cabin: Registration desk hat free, hot chocolate!!! Splitting up into 2 cabins at different parts of the camping ground. Taking all food and food packaging out of the car (bears). Cabin is small but warm.

Fireplace: There is a central cabin with interet and a large fireplace. Very cozy. It has free wifi but someone seems to be taking up all bandwidth. Trying to split up the cost among our group. While all the others are calculating, I'm writing this blog post and comparing Mtn Dew diet vs. regular. ...tastes completely different to the one we have in Europe without the corn syrup.

Otterbox: Just got a mail that the one I ordered from Amazon (as a first reflex before blogging about it) arrived just after I had checked out. It will be returned to sender as Otterbox has offered a free replacement and just delivered it to my hotel for the nex day in person. I've never seen customer service like this.

Sweets: trying my way through the world of local sugar bars. Butterfinger gets stuck in your teeth, Hershey pretty dull. KitKat is smaller then at home. I like the larger M&M made of corn.
Lacking the time to test local beers and wine properly.

OpenStreetMap: no cellphone reception, so I collected a GPS track of the hiking trail to mirror lake.  Compared it with the map later. Turned out OSM was very accurate. Will see if all tents exist in Camp Curry and if they have their number tagged as addr:housenumber.

Pizza: Later that night we had Pizza in Camp Curry. We could eat inside but you had to go outside to order.  While waiting I imported the photos of the day into my laptop.... Had to free up space multiple times.

Lodge: At the lodge the lock to the communal showers was broken ans the two power sockets where so close to each other, that I could not fit adapters for German power plugs into both at once. Lots of additional blankets provided. Very cozy.
Wrote some postcards for the folks at home. Hope it's no problem that I added the Yosemite stamp on them way outside the stamp area.

NASA AMES on Tuesday 



Woke up: Way early again. Shower and typing this Blog posting. Jet lag seems to be getting better. At least it's a reasonable 6am and not 2 or 4am anymore.
Weather conditions will determine what exactly we can do today regarding Yosemite and NASA.

Sorry, NASA AMES had to be canceled.

Frys:  Driving incredibly slow (compared to Germany) on endless, boring, straight roads. Skipped NASA but not skipping a visit to a Fry's electronics shop.
Cool toys at reasonable prices but way too large for airport luggage. :(
They only have a few Canon and Nikon lenses. No Panasonic or Olympus lenses at all.
One interesting travel-tripod but without an equally lightweight head that's a mood point.
Most interesting stuff requires mains power (110V US-plug) or is too large or too heavy.
Nice electronics meassurement tools but too expensive and again, 110V and too large/heavy.
Got a nice leatherman-style mini-tool with integrated flahslight.  Will have to create a belt-pack for it myself as none is included. I expected to find more interesting stuff. :/

Otterbox: They have outdone themself.  I expected a replacement belt clip at the reception. Instead I got a whole Otterbox backpack, 2 belt clips and 2 new silicone cases as well!!! I can't believe customer service like this exists. Don't forget that I didn't even ask them but just mentioned the small mistake in a Google+ posting. ..that they replied before my plane even landed. And that I got a response from a local representative on a sunday! You Otters rock!!!

Wednesday in San Francisco

Woke up way early to get to the Golden Gate Bridge at sunrise.

Headache...I should sleep, eat and dring more. Something else then testin my way through pop tarts, softdrinks and hamburger chains could be a good idea.

Wanted to try Google Wallet payment at a Radio Shack in San Francisco but being a German I don't see the Google Wallet App in Android Market.
Google Play *does* show me the current edisode of MythBusters and has  a buy-season button because I'm in the US... but it doesn't accept my German Credit Card for payment.
#USOnly sucks. Especially if you are in the US but still can't use it.

Submarine: Taking my flash to visit the submarine at pier 43. Very simple design but surprisingly comfortable. Much more so then the German submarines I've seen. Very well lit too. Flash not required at all.

Thursday in San Francisco

Cash: Out of cash in the morning. I don't have my PIN code for the Mastercard to get any. Cashback in shops requires the PIN too. Changed 10eur at a heart stopping rate of 1:1 instead of 1:1.35 at Pier39.

Aquarium at the bay: Opens too late (at 10:00). Must skip this. Should have checked this earlier. My mistake.

USS Hornet: Bus more expensive then expected. Just enough cash to make it if I take BART via Credit Card for the way back. Got a tour of the island+bridge+admirals quarters. Very simple technology but then again, this is a WWII aircraft carrier made in the US.

Noisebridge: OMG, OMG, OMG!!! I've never seen a hackerspace this large! Electronics area, kitchen area, 2 lecture rooms, sewing area, member boxes, ... . Found out that despite asking on the mailing list, German Corner was yesterday an not as advertised. By chance a number of German speakers and learners showed up anyway and we had a great night. Fixed my cach issue by buying cider with my CC and everyone paying their share to me in cash.

Google Play: Found a $25 gift Mastercard in a late night store. Finally a way to pay my Mythbusters and see if that purchase stays valid when I leave the US. Result here.

Leaving on Friday 

Breakfast: Decided to spoil myself on this last day in SF.  "NY style" cheese pancakes with strawberries and cream. Also gingerbread hot chocolate.   ...no way to eat it all. Way too much food for a single plate.

Checkout: Took a massage chair at the hotel to loosen up my muscles as much as possible before carrying the heavy bag and sitting still for 12h. Prepared all receipts and a piece of paper with the sum in USD and EUR (using the official customs exchange rate for this month) to speed up customs when entering Germany again.

Airport: Security is very fast. Only a few seconds per person. No problems. Luggage is at 30lbs. 40 is included. No problems there too despite the heavy tools.

Internet: OMG! SFO has free Wifi and power plugs!!! Problems using it on the smartphone to download the Mythbusters videos I purchased but seems to work on the laptop. Can't free enough space on the laptop to download them. :( Precaching at least on of the 3 episodes on my laptop. Hope this works.



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