Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Crippled in San Francisco

Ever heard of Freeline skates? It's a quirky ride somewhere between a skateboard and a pair of skates. The learning curve can be pretty steep as it was for me. The inventor is from San Francisco, and he came one day to Pixar to promote them. We have around a dozen crazy riders now at work, and you can see them along with the traditional scooter riders, should you be invited to visit the studios some day.



If you think they look dangerous, you are probably right. Once the craft is learnt though, riding them and deciding direction and speed is quite natural and safe, while you don't care about going fast at all costs - which is not a good idea in a workplace anyway.

Right, if you have read the title you have figured out by now that I have hurt myself. I can hardly blame the skates... Small but heavy as they are they fit easily in a bag... unless its a paper bag. Long story short, skating with fragile grocery bags downhill is a bad idea for at least two reasons:

  • bags can break and disrupt your direction.
  • bags prevent you from jumping as promptly when you are unexpectedly heading for a step (reason being the previous point). 


Having broken a foot, I will be on crutches for about a month. Now, obvious as it sounds being a cripple is not easy, anyone who broke a leg or a foot can tell you that. It gets harder if you live on your own and have to commute to work without a car. Despite all that, San Francisco is pretty well equipped for cripples - or for amazingly lazy people. Buses are usually equipped to allow disabled people on, and the historical trams on the F line have special ramps near each stop.

If you cannot leave home, or cannot be bothered, there are several websites for grocery shopping and delivery. Also, I found this (remarkably decent) food delivery portal that made my life a whole lot easier. Online food ordering is a lot less annoying than having to look up places, call, see if they deliver to your address, not know the menu, cope with background noise, have the change when they come, etc... Hiring a movie is also very easy, in the US there are portals like Hulu or Netflix that allow online movie streaming without having to go to the shop.

The best part is that, since I moved to the Research department in Pixar, I can sometimes work from home if my schedule allows it, increasing the value of all the above. Still, I cannot wait to be walking, running, dancing and especially skating on my feet again!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Halloween at Universal Studios


My friends and colleagues from Pixar had the awesome idea of spending the weekend at the Universal Studios Halloween Horror Nights. The park is located in Los Angeles, so we needed to hire a van that could fit all seven of us. The trip was fantastic, a brilliant excuse to drive down and to see places like Monterey and Big Sur, where the fog, the Sun and the wind contributed to providing an ever changing coastal landscape. The cliffs and the forests were at times breathtaking.

The park opened at 7pm, just after sunset, and it felt very different than it did in other occasions. The darkness was made worse by layers of thick artificial fog, and within it numerous dark figures lurked awaiting for some victims to scare. These people were actually employed by the park to add to the experience, and it definitely worked, at least for the first half hour or so. Dressed in horror costumes and equipped with fake but realistic and loud chainsaws, the actors went straight for the careless visitors, usually resulting in fear, panic and eventually laughter and maybe a photo.


Only some of the rides were available at night, but a few themed haunted houses were added to celebrate Halloween, such as Saw, Halloween or My Bloody Valentine. Inside each of these there were a lot more actors attempting with remarkable success to scare the visitors. Sometimes some actors even posed as visitors, and were dragged into cabinets screaming and definitely spooking the people behind them. I wonder how many people actually worked in the park those nights!

To add to the horror of the night - they spared no expenses! - on our way out of the park we enjoyed the view of a few real fistfights (and probably real bleeding noses) at the bars of the Universal City.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Lovevolution



 
In the spirit of the Love Parade, a music and love festival started in Berlin in 1989, San Francisco created its very own version: the Lovevolution. DJs from all over the country as well as Europe, such as Groove Armada and ATB, came to the fog city to propagate their own love and gospel: music.

To enjoy this festival you really have to love Electronic music. Or at least not mind semi-naked or wasted people. The parade traced a good portion of Market Street, to finish into the Civic Center square. Each float, armed with beautiful men and women, transformed into a stage where several DJs were alternating awesome grooves. Several bars and food stalls were improvised, and the crowd was overwhelming yet very friendly. Do not be fooled by how little people were wearing. It was cold and windy. Dancing to the music, a few drinks and a good dose of penguin effect (everyone standing squeezed in a very tight crowd) were the best way to cope with it.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Waiting for Toy Story 3


While my job is done on Toy Story 3, the movie is not quite done yet. In the meantime, Pixar has released a double feature, Toy Story and Toy Story 2 in 3D, meaning that with some polarized or coloured glasses you will be able to see Buzz, Woody and the gang in three dimensions. I do recommend seeing it. Ironically, what makes it worth seeing in my opinion, is the hilarious ancillary animation that was inserted to fill the time between the two features, when many people will be looking away from the screen.

Even though this is not a new release, the double feature has been very successful at the box office, hinting that there is quite some expectation ramping up. If you can't wait either, I'll leave you with this nice mashup I found on youtube.

Monday, August 10, 2009

San Lorenzo

For many years San Lorenzo made me think of a sad poem that the Italian writer Giovanni Pascoli wrote. He spoke of a swallow being killed while trying to feed its toddlers. And he spoke of a man being killed by robbers on his way to see his family after a long travel. That man was his own father. The meteor shower that is visible in those nights was therefore seen by him as if the sky was crying, looking at the tiny evil atom the Earth is.

 
I went with my good fellow Pixarians up on the hills above Berkeley, on Volmert Peak. From there you could have a great view of this tiny atom of evil, from above. But the view looks not evil at all. The usual fog for once was far below us and the little cities of the East Bay transformed it into a misty sea of lights. We watched in awe this ocean below us, and the rain of stars above us. The sky did not seem to cry, it rather seemed like it was playfully trying to reach for us, and we playfully tried to catch with our glimpse as many stars as we could, while enjoying some drinks and playing virtual ocarinas until not long before sunrise.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The french quarter and all that Jazz

  Although Siggraph was great by itself, it also was a unique chance to see a unique city. As you will recall, New Orleans was flooded in 2005 by the hurricane Katrina. The city received an evacuation order but at least 100.000 people refused to do so for several reasons. The delay and sometimes inefficiency of the rescue operations caused many tragedies. One of them was the disorganisation in the evacuation of the Louisiana Superdome, that brought about the overcrowding of the very same Convention Centre where Siggraph Took place. The small contingent of the national guard were not able to control the 20 thousand people crowd and since the transport failed to arrive,  many people died and reports of murders and rapes started to emerge. These events later became a symbol, at least for the subsequent Democrat campaign, of the ineptitude of the Bush/Cheney administration.
 

 In 2009, those same areas show little sign of destruction. At least to those, such as me, who had never been there before. The only significant issue I found was the deficiency of the public transport. The city, however, still looked very beautiful. Unfortunately I had a very short time to spend as a tourist so I opted to see a small portion, but to do it properly.

 I had spent a few nights in and near the French Quarter during that week, catching up with my ex colleagues from London, Madrid or Sydney, or just getting to know better my new colleagues. The night life of that area rivals that of any city I have visited. Unlike San Francisco, bars do not close at 1am, and several things are legal that are not in California.

 One of the touristy highlights of the Quarter is Bourbon Street, the very same street that Sting wrote a song about. I have not seen it before the hurricane, but I have to say it gave me the same vibe as Pier 39 in Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco. Few locals, many tourists, pseudo authentic things to see. But very much more for adults. Strip clubs and alike are a common sight, as well as rivers of beer - and of very drunk people crawling on the street. There are casinos too around the city. But if you venture further along the Bourbon Street, in the darker and quieter area, you will find some of the oldest bars in the city, as well as some amazing Jazz concerts.
 
   
 Jazz, that is right. Not just in Bourbon's street, but all over Frenchman's street and further out of the French Quarter, this is the city of Jazz. The bars are built for it. Pianos are used as tables, the musicians mix with the public having drinks and celebrating another night of intense life. Be it Dixieland, blues or modern fusion, every band here seems to be so talented. The rhythm dragged us so easily into it, and made us one with the night.

 That is, until we realised it was 5am and we had to get up early for that day's conference. It was even harder for me since I was staying at a youth hostel, where the people kept partying even after sunrise - hard to resist the temptation to join them into the swimming pool and into the vibe that always surrounds young travellers.
 
 On Friday, after the conference, I had the luck of being hosted right inside the French Quarter, by a fantastic Couchsurfer named Daniel. During the last two days I got to live the life of the area as a local, surrounded by locals. I discovered some interesting things. It turns out the architecture of the French Quarter was actually lost a long time ago in a fire. What we can see today is the result of the reconstruction that the then Spanish authorities performed. That perhaps explains the remarkable similarities with the architecture in Andalucia and the frequent tiles with the names of the streets in Castellano.

Yet another great discovery was for me the food. I certainly had heard of the delicious Cajun food. Therefore I did my best to try out as many local recipes as I could. And I have to say, I was not disappointed at all. Very spicy, very tasty. I should say quite unhealthy too, given the amount of oil and fried things. But hey, so delicious. It is not easy to describe, the combination of herbs that characterise these dishes is not too rare elsewhere, yet it is so distinctive here. I had Cajun food before but having it here was a whole different experience - just like it would be to have an authentic Brasato in Monferrato regions of Piedmont. Since I cannot describe it properly, I will leave you with this: a picture of a blackened catfish. Now you have to go there and try.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Siggraph 2009


How did changing department affect me in the short time?
 
I had started on a Monday. On that Tuesday I was told I really should go to this year's Siggraph. On Friday I was supposed to go to Vegas (see previous posts). And on the next Monday Siggraph was already on!

Since I had already paid and committed to go to Vegas, I decided to find some flight from there to New Orleans, where the conference took place this year. I took a red eye on Sunday night and slept a few hours on the plane and at the airport. I arrived to the conference just on time for the Siggraph 2009 awards. It was important that I could make it there on time because two out of three prizes were awarded to my coworkers: Rob Cook and Michael Kass.
 

If you work in my industry, Rob really needs no introduction. Among his great achievements, he was the co-architect and primary author of Renderman. He is also Director at Large for ACM. Michael is also a very remarkable man. I got to know him a little better during the conference and at the parties that took place in those evenings. His award shows again how some individuals can excel in completely diverse skills. Other than being an eminent research figure, he is a world-class ice dancer and a juggler. As a side note, Michael is also working on my same project at Pixar.
 
I was thrilled to see the talks that would take place after the awards. In their acceptance speech, both Rob and Michael faced head-on the apparent crisis that Siggraph is going through. Less and less people showing up year by year, and some say less interesting publications too. The main issue is: has almost everything been discovered already? are all the new discoveries going to be just slight improvements on the established techniques? 

The points that were brought up were very relevant. Perhaps also because of Pixar's achievements, Siggraph conference in its history has deviated from its original scope, computer graphics and interactive techniques, to just computer graphics. According to Rob Cook, Siggraph crisis is an identity crisis. He quoted how physics were thought to be almost entirely discovered at the end of the 1800s, before the theory of relativity, quantum physics and other very major discoveries. He finally listed a number of unexplored problems that may and will keep researchers busy for the next three decades at least. 

Michael focused on what the attitude of the panels that select the papers to be published could/should be. There is a delicate and sometimes arbitrary balance, between being strict to avoid watering down the quality of publications, and being relaxed to catch original approaches and not restrict the field Siggraph spans, otherwise missing out on the next great discoveries. Not an easy task.

Vegas baby, Vegas

Who among you have never been to Las Vegas? Right. Until a couple of weeks ago I would have raised my hand too. But then one day I was covered with urgent work, and I get a call: 
 
- Hey we're going to Vegas in 2 weeks, you coming?
- Err.. I can't talk right now, I'm kind of b...
- We're booking now, or the offer will expire!
- Sigh... ok whatever! *click*
 
So after agreeing with all this enthusiasm, it took me about five seconds to forget I had agreed. And that I had received the call at all. But at night I get an email with the confirmation. And at that point I actually realise I am going! To Vegas, baby, Vegas!
 
All right, so what is there to be so excited about? I was not quite sure myself. All I knew about Las Vegas is that there are lots of Casinos, rivers of alcohol and people waking up hung over, married and not knowing why or who is the other person. Have you seen the movie "Hangover"? Well.. that's as much as I knew.
 
 
The day came and... ok so what do you do once off the airplane? You gamble of course! Or at least that's what some people do, since the airport is stuffed with slot machines. Once outside the terminal you also get to realise that the shade of the night does not involve cool temperatures as it does in San Francisco. It is hot. Really hot. 107 degrees at night - I quote the Fahrenheit because it looks more impressive than Celsius. Two things seem to mark most things here. Air conditioning and ads. The taxis are freezing and are covered with retro lit ads inside and out. The hotel receptions are. Even the people working there cannot escape being living ads, their name tag is belittled by big commercial tags they seem to need to wear at all times.
 
Despite the good deal, we got very nice connected rooms. Coming from the Fog City, a lot of things seemed pretty affordable there actually, except probably clubs. The illumination is almost day-like everywhere on the "Strip" - the main hotel-casino street - and in downtown. Near our hotel, there is even a street entirely covered with l.e.d.s performing shows of light and colour.
 
Our hotel, called "The Golden Nugget", may not have been in the heat of the action of the city, but it sure had an interesting swimming pool. It had a water tank inside with big fishes and sharks. And a transparent slide going right inside it. Here is what it looks like.
 
We spent two days and three nights in Las Vegas. Yes, we did gamble, and my favourite game is the Roulette. No, I did not lose money (right on!). And no, I did not wake up in a room with a tiger and without a tooth. What will I remember the most of Las Vegas? I know it is probably not what you would expect but it is the Stratosphere: A 400 meters-tall tower with a little Luna Park on top. I did not get to go on the summit, but just looking up from the bus gave me shivers. Next time, I will have to try!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

I have a solution. I just need a problem.

A few weeks back I wrapped my role on Toy Story 3. I should say my roles since I moved departments a couple of times. I worked in Sets Shading, and in GT, which stands for Global Technology. The name is not entirely appropriate since GT departments only write and maintain tools for their own show.
My new assignment is in the research group of Pixar, also called R&D. Each company has a department called like this, but in Pixar it takes an unusual meaning, for a Computer Graphics company. The role of R&D everywhere I have been in contact with or worked at was to write and support the tools and the pipeline used in the current and future productions. 
At Pixar, part of R&D actually makes time to explore new solutions to problems that have not come up yet, publish papers, experiment. What is done there is not guaranteed to be applied to any production, depending on a number of factors, besides how successful the results of the research was. The members of the department are among the most famous and respected fathers of CG as we know it. We have some undergraduate and graduate students, and even professors taking a sabbatical year at Pixar.
So what am I doing now? Well, I am working on a project I cannot talk about, and if it is successful, it might be applied to an undisclosed future production. That was a very unsatisfactory answer was it not? Unfortunately that is all I can say at this point.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Yosemite

California has some beautiful parks. And in over 8 months I had not seen any, other than the Muir Woods. That was until my good friend Benedetta finally decided to organise a trip. There were five of us, and despite the our good intentions, we did not hike that much. We woke up early but we always had a slow start up, not to mention that Yosemite is pretty huge, and to get anywhere you need to drive for a while. In the evening, we enjoyed our lodge. It had a very nice looking restaurant and lounge. We also perused the beautiful swimming pool with view on the mountains, which had a bar serving all sorts of drinks.

We did see something though. We did a few trails and we climbed on rocks trying to reach the end of the enchanting Bridal Veil waterfall, where little water snakes breed and slither near the calves of tourists. I was surprised to see people climbing those slippery and sometimes sharp rocks with months old babies in their arms.
 

We finally saw the majestic sequoias, the size of some of which made my head spin. We spotted a few deers, and lots squirrels and chipmunks. Actually, it was the squirrels who spotted us, and came begging for food. However, I should say fortunately, no bears seemed to spot us or come to try to force their way into our car trying to get our lunch.

I have posted a few pictures on Picasa.


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Oz and Back

It has been about 10 months already. I have missed it a lot. But most of all I have missed spending time with my lady. So there I went, back to Australia, back to the familiar Sydney I have loved so much.

 
Some people say San Francisco is a bit like Sydney. Or, depending on who says it, the other way around. I don't see that much resemblance other than memorable bridges, a beautiful bay, and lots of hills. They are both fascinating in very different ways. Sydney does not have the most enticing and loathed atmospheric events of the Fog City. Had I not lived in both places, I wouldn't have believed who told me that leaving San Francisco (same latitude as Rome, or Madrid) in the Summer, and landing in Sydney in the Winter, would have involved exactly no change in my wardrobe.
  
I was delighted to see so many friends went out of their way to meet me. But being very sociable in a full-flu season involves some risks. I got sick the second day after I arrived. And, unfortunately, I did not heal until the very end. Besides, it was not really planned to be a quiet holiday.

We drove about two thousand kilometres up the coast and inland. We visited plenty of cute little towns, beaches and cliffs. We saw kangaroos relaxing along the road and whales migrating off the cliffs of "Northern New South Wales". We went to the most famous surfing spots of that coast, Byron Bay and Surfers Paradise, but the bad weather did not provide much motivation for two rookies such as us. Eventually we stopped a day in Brisbane. In the middle of the winter, we enjoyed some chilled white wine along the river wearing but a shirt, before having a delicious Turkish dinner. Hey, this sounds like another place I would enjoy.

 
Sadly, the holiday lasted way too short. Back to Sydney, and then back to San Francisco. Tired, yes and a bit sick still. But also deeply refreshed, and very spoiled by Suzie's cooking, again. Certainly ready to get straight back to work.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Rainy Disneyland

I know it's supposed to be the other way around, but when they came to visit me in the US, I took my parents to Disneyland. I think we found Orange County's only two yearly rainy days. But hey, who needs the Sun down there, it was so nice and warm anyway! As a Pixar employee, it was very fortunate that I could get discounts at hotels and restaurants, but most importantly, that I coult get myself and my family free passes into the parks. Despite the discounts due to the recession, Disneyland is no bargain. The resort is separated into two parks. 
 
 
 
One is called California Adventure, and is a mix of Disneyan and Californian inspired attractions. It was not that great since there were lots of renewals and refurbishments happening. The most surprising and interesting part was probably a Californian food and wine festival, inside the park, where you could get to sample typical local foods and wines.
The second park is called simply Disneyland, and it is the first Disney resort ever built. It was in a much better shape too. There was a lot more happening, action figures, and lots and lots of rides. Some of them were related to Pixar - of course, since I am partial, the best ones - . At night we saw a fireworks show that was really impressive for something that happens every night. And to be honest, the park is a whole lot more beautiful after sunset. There are less people around, especially kids, which makes queues faster and the whole experience more enjoyable. Especially picturesque was the New Orleans section at night. A steamboat took us on the river and we got to enjoy a reconstruction of the little streets and shops of the city.
  
 

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The political compass

Reading the blog of the former British ambassador to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray, I found this interesting link.
 
 

 I found the first page of questions clearly biased (although they were biased to a direction I agreed with). I thought that would be a nice way to see where you stand, and pick your next candidate, based on their quotes and interviews. During the latest election for example you could have cross referenced with Google Quotes.

So where do I stand?


 
Well... It's good to see I stand on the "good" side. That is as far as possible from Silvio Berlusconi. I suppose that fits with me living in San Francisco.

Monday, April 27, 2009

It's a wrap!

 
A wrap party is a big celebration a movie company has when a project closes (wraps). I have been to a couple of wrap parties before. The one for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix was probably the most significant. I was quite unprepared for what I had the fortune to participate to last Saturday: the Pixar wrap party for UP!

 
It took place in two separate theatres. The first one, the Paramount theatre, held the screening. Walking in, I realised we were walking into a very old and beautiful theatre. There were easily over two thousands guests. Everyone was dressed intimidatingly fancy, except for a few people in movie-related costumes. The scale of the event was impressive.

There was a raffle, where the winners could get a ride on a zeppelin over San Francisco, and alas, I did not win. Then there was a talk from some of the people involved in the creation of this movie. John Lasseter (the first animator at Pixar and the current CCO) can be very entertaining.

Then the screening started. They showed the teaser of Toy Story 3, which is what I am currently working on, and then the delightful animated short Partly Cloudy.
 

I'm not going to spoil the movie, but there are very beautiful parts, I cried twice, and I still feel tears about to come out when I think of it. Overall I liked it. I thought it is surprisingly different from the other Pixar movies... assuming one could define what the a Pixar movie is like.

After the screening we walked to the Fox theatre, just two blocks away. The streets were closed, only for us. Passers by freaked out seeing all of a sudden over two thousand people in tuxedos and dresses, and huge spot lights pointing to the sky were showing the way there. There were balloon stalls on the streets as well, and retro cars parked all around to create more atmosphere.

 

Once inside, the theatre was, if possible, even more impressive (what are such nice theatres doing in Oakland anyway?). They were serving Chinese entrees and delicious sushi, made right on the spot. Later came some small portions of custard and brownies. There was open bar but other than a few individuals, it did not seem like people were taking much advantage of it. I guess that is good. The crowd was sometimes overwhelming, especially around the food. There was a big band, playing songs from the "Belle Epoque" of the early 20th century, that got later replaced by a DJ playing pop, rap and club music.
 
The party ended all too quickly. Or at least if felt like, since we were there really since 5pm until 2am.

Here are some hundreds of pictures, from the people who participated.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Interview with CGExplorer

CGExplorer is a computer graphics portal, created and maintained by Massimo Curatella. It offers information about digital artists, software tools, movies and events. I met Massimo at the View Conference 2007, he was at the time the online promoter of the event. Since then we sporadically kept in touch. Some time ago, Massimo asked me if we could organize an interview. Why not? I said. It sure took longer than both of us had planned, but finally here it is!

Interview with CGExplorer


Friday, March 27, 2009

Making Sushi with couchsurfers.

I already mentioned some time ago about Couchsurfing. Well I discovered the international community of couchsurfers is way bigger than I expected. I keep meeting people that know about it. And this month we reach one million active members. That is a lot of travellers! San Francisco has a great community and there are so many events I struggle keeping up.

 
One of these such events are the potlucks. Each month the members catch up at the park (or, if it rains, at some generous member's place) and bring some of their typical foods and drinks. The resulting party is pretty big and lasts for the whole day. I went to one last month, and decided to practice some drawing using a guy, making sushi from scratch in the kitchen, as a model.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Not a number



Last week something happened in the main atrium at Pixar. There was a stage, and lots of people were gathering around. What was about to begin is called the "Pixar Awards", happening for the first time ever (and planned to happen every year from now on). So what is that? It is the celebration of the longest time employees. The ones who have been there for 10 years got a Buzz bronze statue and the ones who have been there for 20 years also got a Woody statue.

So what's the big deal? It is the number of people who got awarded. Over twenty people got Woody and over a hundred and eighty got Buzz. I mean... almost two hundred people have been working at Pixar for over ten years! If you drop that to nine, the number greatly increases. That means most people stayed, since Pixar was not that much bigger than two hundred people ten years ago. Digging a bit deeper, the percentage of people who leave Pixar every year is below 10%. And most of them were fairly recent hires.

Now if you are wondering why I am so surprised, you have to consider the VFX and animation industry I grew in. Like another three hundred people, I had to leave Animal Logic after Happy Feet, because there was no work to be done. That was over half of the company. I will not dig into a discussion about the current economic downturn, but so many company in our industry fire great numbers of people with little notice, to cut costs, to outsource the work where it is cheaper, or even to avoid bankruptcy. London was quite extreme in that. Hundreds of people moved from one company to the other every month. And we are not talking about companies with thousands of employees. That was often over half the whole workforce.

Put in that perspective, it is indeed amazing how different things are here. It might be tough to get in if you need a visa to work in the US, but once you make it you know you are not going to be treated like a number. That is a comforting thought.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Wall-e won the Oscar

After competing on 7 nominations, including sound mixing, original story, original song and best animated movie, and losing most to Slumdog Millionaire, Wall-e won perhaps the biggest one in our industry: Best Animated Picture.




All right I cannot take any credit on this one: the movie was finished before I managed to get my visa and come to Pixar. Still it feels good to see the hard work of my friends and colleagues rewarded. Wall-e is a movie I deeply appreciated for several reasons. I love the graphics (of course), the homage to mute films of the first twenty minutes, the love story that looks new and feels nostalgic nonetheless. Most of all, I like how it brings attention to the bad habits of humankind, without detracting from the story with it.

 
On Monday there was a big party at Pixar. Andrew Stanton was there and everyone took pictures with the little golden statue. Everyone but me. I was home, sick with a nasty cold. Oh well...


Congratulations to all other competitors though. Having traveled through China, I especially loved the environments of Kung-fu Panda. There have been lots of bitter discussions after the results of the Annie Awards, but still we all have to acknowledge this one was a good year, where the competition was a lot tighter and quality on all levels greatly improved.

I will leave with a "chicca" from the night of the Oscars:


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Another wine country


After a long time away, my sweet lady came to visit me from the land of kangaroos, and what better way to celebrate than to go and visit the surroundings of San Francisco? That's right! The surroundings include the wine country! For my dear friends of Sydney, this might remind you of the Hunter Valley. Indeed it felt a bit like going to the Lovedale long lunch. When one mentions the wine country, here in northern California, there are several areas, mainly to the north of the city. One of them is Sonoma Valley, and that is where we headed. Apparently the sovereign wines of these lands are Chardonnays, Cabernet-Sauvignons and Zinfandels. For those who would ever consider crashing at my little flat, my favourite are Cabernet-Sauvignons (hint hint).

Sonoma itself is a cute little town, and we were delighted to visit, among the other places, the cheese factory. This is a big deli that lets you sample a lot of cheeses for free. Pity that all of them were just variations of flavoured Jacks and Cheddars. What about trying to make some more types of cheese? France alone has over 350 (according to my secret sources), and Italy almost as many.


Fortunately, seafood here is also outstanding, and well worth the trip. We had some oysters from a farm in Point Reyes, including two giant oysters that took us about half an hour to open.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Alec the Bunny anyone?


I had to have one plush out of this mountain in my office!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Muir Woods


Last weekend I managed to get out of the city. Apparently a few miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge there is plenty of things to see. One of them are the Muir Woods.
 
West coast redwood trees dominate Muir Woods' forest. Douglas-fir, big-leaf maple, tanbark oak, and baylaurel grow along side the redwoods. At the lower end of the canyon, red alders line the stream and buckeyes cluster nearby. Baylaurels growing toward the light may assume contorted shapes or topple over. Apparently the winter is the wettest time of the year and indeed I had to cross some serious mud and puddles. I didn't get to see a lot of the fauna, because despite the cold the site was fairly crowded with people, most of which were locals taking their children for a walk.
 
Indeed, the amount of people there did not make it easy to park anywhere near the access to the park so I had little time left to walk before it got dark. Being late was not so bad though, because I had a chance to see a gorgeous sunset on the way back from the Marine hills.