I guess I should have mentioned this earlier, but Chris and I are going up to Seattle this weekend for Microsoft Puzzlehunt 16.  I really did think I'd go to Carnival this year, but in the end I figured that I'd rather do puzzles and I can go visit friends in Pittsburgh any time, really.  (Hopefully I'll manage a good east-coast trip sometime later this year.)

Carnival's always been timed badly for me recently due to my habit of spending some chunk of April in Japan anyway, which I also did this year.  We'll see, I guess.  It occurs to me that the Kiltie concert has already happened and things are underway, which just feels weird to think about.  I guess I'm getting old.
A writeup! Only 3 days after hunt!

There are spoilers within. Random asked us to refrain from them since the hunt is going to stay online and be playable for a year, plus they are going to publish a book with the puzzle from one of the rounds. I can't spoil that round, since I saw very little of it, but the overall hunt... let's just say, if you are thinking of playing the hunt on your own, PLEASE DO NOT READ THIS ENTRY IF YOU DO NOT WANT SPOILERS.

Also on that note, a warning: This entry is EXTREMELY LONG. I started writing it on the flight home and continued braindumping for a few days. I enjoy reading people's long hunt stories so I hope you enjoy mine.

Okay, I warned you. On several axes. )
Just as a reminder:
June 6: move to mountain view
June 8: acquire bicycle
June 10, evening: take curb at bad angle in the dark, twisting leg underneath bicycle.
June 11-June 29: Treat as if sprained ankle
June 30: Get x-ray, find out ankle is actually broken
July 1: Get cast for broken ankle
July 1-21: What we will call "Adventures of Chrome Cast Girl" as I go around wearing a blue cast with Chrome stickers all over it, paint my toenails blue, try to cheerfully get through my 3 weeks of wearing a cast for my ankle to get better, begging rides off people, etc, etc.
July 22: Get the Chrome cast taken off, and now starting 2 weeks of Black is the new Chromecast.

Basically, I went to the doctor today, they sawed off my old cast, had me limp over for X-rays, and he's like "you still need to wear a cast for another 2 weeks or so.  It's healing, but it's still at a point where it could easily be displaced or bruised."

So I got a new cast put on.  I could choose colours again, so I decided to go with black.  I figure it's partially because I'm bummed out about the cast at all, but also I'm figuring I can match clothes to it a bit better.

Can't believe I have to wait two more weeks to clean off my right leg :(
Not that it really matters, but I'm beginning to wonder if I should just give up on the part of me that loves Japanese baseball and realize that I'm in the US and I'm never going to live in Japan again and trying to stay involved is just not going to work out.

This is mostly because I JUST found out that the Japanese national collegiate team came to the US on a US-and-Netherlands tour this summer.  I know there's USA-Japan next summer and I'm planning for that, but WTF?  Even though this was also the middle of nowhere in North Carolina, I totally would have made my best effort to go had I known.

But I didn't know because I just don't really read about Japanese baseball the way I used to.  I spend a lot of time on work, and on my boyfriend of 5 months, and I broke my leg a month ago (well, I moved to Mountain View at the start of June, got a bike, and had an accident on June 10 where my leg got twisted under the bike, I thought it was a sprained ankle but just found out on July 1 that it was actually broken, a displacement of the distal fibula, I have a cast until the 22nd) and so my life has mostly been focused on those things, especially with Google I/O on June 25/26, which took a lot of my time to prep for and to staff at AND I couldn't walk for like 10 days after my bike accident.

I don't know why this bothers me so much.  I guess people know I'm not really an expert on the current state of Japanese baseball anymore.  And quite frankly, working at Google and having a career is pretty awesome, and having a smart sweet boyfriend who does puzzlehunts and boardgames and takes me to musicals and all is ALSO pretty awesome.

Anyway, I dunno.  But yeah, things have been busy the last while.  In April, I switched teams from Chrome Devtools to work on Project Tango, which is a cool 3D computer vision Kinect-like Android device under the formerly-Motorola ATAP research division, and I've been working with super-smart people learning all kinds of crazy stuff about computer vision, so that has been pretty cool.  There was a lot of work with that to get ready for Google I/O of course, and breaking my leg 2 weeks beforehand didn't really help (unfortunately, the place I live is a 10-minute bike ride from campus but there's NO public transit there AND it's not on a Google shuttle route; the closest is to take a shuttle to Caltrain and walk 3/5 of a mile home, which I can finally do again since I have a walking cast but it takes me 20 minutes).  Of course, I did get a blue cast and put Chrome stickers all over it so it's a Chrome Cast, which is sort of funny I guess, or at least everyone at Google thinks it's pretty funny.  But yeah, I've been having my boyfriend Chris drive me around a lot, and/or begging rides from people to get to/from work in general.  I just took my first Uber ride yesterday actually, which was a lot cheaper and more convenient than I thought it would be.

I had been doing ballroom dance class at Google as well as lightsaber stage fighting, and I was ice-skating once a week, and playing ping pong, and I've had to stop all of that for a month, which has SUCKED in terms of exercise.

Chris and I went up to Seattle for Microsoft Puzzle Hunt in mid-June right before I/O too, where we played PH15 with Liboncatipu, and.... our team placed 3rd, which was pretty nuts!  I had to limp the final runaround on my broken leg, but the hunt had enough broken-ness towards the end that a lot of good teams got tripped up getting to/through the final meta.  I want to post more about it sometime but just haven't found the mental cycles to do so.

For the 4th of July weekend, since I got the 3rd and 4th off, we went to Napa, and ate a lot of good food and rode a wine train and toured a winery masquerading as a castle, and stuff like that.  It was a lot of fun and nice to spend a weekend out with him.  I'm hoping we can do a trip to NYC later this summer actually, but we're still working that out.

This weekend we're doing Berkeley Mystery Hunt and California Extreme.  So, we're busy and cool things are happening.  My life should be pretty good all things considered, minus the broken leg, but I'm just feeling so weird and melancholy over the Japanese baseball thing all of a sudden.
So, Sunday.  I woke up around 10:30am, the plan was to meet at least Derek and Nathan at the Oakland Mad Mex at 11:30.  Of course I was running a bit late, and as it turns out they had decided to get a group together anyway and everyone was running late!  I got there at 11:45 and they had just gotten the big table in the back.  The place was empty, so it wasn't a big deal, though.  It was me, Derek, Nathan, Brian, Jay, Alkas, and Chris joined us a bit later as well.  I made people order too many chips, but it worked out okay, and I got to have my mad mex burrito for old times' sake, yay.  The funny part is that Chris made us play credit card roulette for the check AGAIN, and even I entered it this time.  Alkas hadn't eaten food since he went to brunch earlier so he was in charge of it, and... bizarrely I was first out, and then Derek, and then Nathan, and... it seriously went around the table and came down to Jay and Chris, and of course Chris lost yet AGAIN although this time there was no cash for a "next level".  He was calculating the odds of having lost 4 out of 5 CC roulettes as like 1 to 840, which is about how much money it cost him over the weekend.

Everyone else was doing various stuff around Pittsburgh and/or going to the airport after that, so I went to Squirrel Hill for the pie party... although I made my way there over the course of like 2 hours.  First I stopped in Dave&Andy's again for more ice cream (there was no line and they had the Kahlua cookies'n'cream, so I think I win) and then I went to the Forbes Field wall just to see it, and I walked across the Schenley bridge to campus and went around campus a bit.  I was originally going to just walk to Barbara's house, but it was REALLY HOT OUTSIDE so by the time I'd gotten to campus and wandered around a little I decided to just take a bus up, and got a drink from Entropy so I'd have change to take the bus.  (Though I still had to walk half a mile up the hill even from the bus stop.)

Pie party was good, there were a lot of people and I did get to talk to some of them a little bit more, and meet some people's new SOs (well, one specifically, but he seems to not want to talk about it online), and there was something weird in that there were two people there who have changed genders MTF since the last time I saw them a few years ago, and I felt awkward when talking to them.  I was thinking about why I'm not very good with dealing with friends' transitions, and it's not that I disapprove of transgenderism, because I don't -- I think it's linked to my memory?  For people who've known me a long time, you know I have a bizarrely good memory for faces/names/numbers/etc, but also that if you give me wrong information, it's very hard for me to ever overwrite that, so I still know some birthdays as a string of things, like "it's not the 16th, it's the 23rd", and I also have a very tough time changing names for people in my head, so I still call people by their college nicknames a lot of the time even if pretty much absolutely nobody else uses that name (or in one case, a guy who was one of my PGSS students and went by his middle name up through high school but switched to his first name in college, I *still* call him by his middle name because that's just how he was introduced to me 17 years ago).  So I think this is just another case where I just don't know how to overwrite the data in my head.  There's a person in there, they have a name, they have associated numbers and memories, and since I don't see them on any regular basis to really build a new identity or anything, it's just tough for me to correct what is in my memory.

(I dunno, I was thinking about this a lot afterwards, because I mean, I have a lot of gay friends and I never have any problem at all with that, so why is it that trans is hard for me?  Yes, I realize I'm saying this in a public entry, but whatever.)

Anyway, aside from that, I juggled for a while during the party, and also did play some games during the party too, like Race for the Galaxy (where I am still convinced that it's a game that really suffers from "missed the boat" syndrome in many ways) and Factory Fun (where we would have played the full game out, except we were outdoors and sunset happened).  I actually did not eat any pie at all, so ended up going back to Roman and Kelli's place and we had Zaw's for dinner, which was also nostalgic in a good way, and we sat outside on the porch and I got to find out exactly how cheap houses are in Pittsburgh these days, which is a little depressing.

My flight back to SF was at 6am, so I called for a taxi to show up at 3:45.  I TRIED to take a nap but just utterly failed, and instead stayed up the entire night chatting with people online.  Took a shower around 3am and caught the taxi and got to the airport.  Brian was at the airport all night apparently, so I met him at the gate, and it turned out Jim K was also on our flight, and I slept through the entire flight (yay window seat, yay reverse redeye) and I got a ride to work with Brian since his girlfriend Dian was picking him up from the airport.  Yay! 

Carnival

Apr. 12th, 2014 10:30 pm
Wow, I didn't even write about Carnival in here last year.  I guess I was only in town Sat-Sun then and it was a pretty big whirlwind (arrive Sat, go to midway, go to SCS thing, go to cslounge BBQ, go watch SNS Assassins, go to Pirates game, go to dinner, go to Charlie's, go to ass-early return flight).

This year I flew in on the Thurs-Fri redeye.  Jenny and Brian and I were on the same flight, and Talia and her family too.  So the aforementioned 3 of us split a taxi to Oakland/Squill, and of course ran into some pretty awful traffic, but I arrived at Roman and Kelli's house by 8am.  I intended to just shower and change and go to work on the shuttle, but I had a terrible time sleeping on the flight and was exhausted, so instead I showered and napped for 2 hours and eventually Roman drove me to Bakery Square.  I arrived at the Pittsburgh Google office at 11am or so, figured out how to get to the cafe on the 6th floor, and camped out with my laptop and told people where I was, and eventually I had like 10 people join me for lunch, which was great!  After lunch mpa gave me a tour of the office.  I ran into many many people that I worked with at either Claritech or Whizbang all those years ago, which was pretty awesome, and I also ran into various CMU alums that I forgot were there too.  Eventually I ended up camping out in a microkitchen to do work for several hours.

I took a shuttle to campus around 5-5:30 and met up with the class of 2004 friends of mine.  They were all in town for their 10th year reunion and I kinda glomped onto their group (since I mean, a lot of them are my usual friends in SF/etc anyway).  We walked around midway a little bit and then decided to go to Fuel and Fuddle for dinner -- except we got to F&F and they were way too crowded, so instead we decided to go to Church Brew Works!  We had to walk to the hotel everyone was staying at first to get some vehicles, but we got to CBW and surprisingly had no trouble securing 3 tables together in the bar area for the 14 or so of us.  The difficult problem was figuring out what to order.  Eventually we ended up with 3 pierogie pizzas for the table, a ton of nonstandard pierogies, various other side dishes, I got the onion soup, and people drank a lot of beer (I had birch beer on tap, yay).  Some subset of everyone did credit card roulette for the check, and Phil won (and kept the cash as well) and Smoak lost (and had to pay the whole bill).

They had a happy hour for 2004 after that, so I got Derek to take me home to Squill, and then they all went to their happy hour, and I hung out with Roman and Kelli and also with Charlie who randomly showed up ("I saw the lights were on and I knew Dee was here!").  Went to bed early, like 11pm.

But I couldn't get out of bed until like 10am despite first waking at like 7.  Went back to sleep and kept slamming the snooze on my phone.  I eventually got up and ready, stopped by Bruegger's for a bagel just because, and walked to campus (wheeee).  I guess I got there around noon, and I spent a while in the UC bookstore looking at CMU stuff (and bought a few things like plaid pajama pants and a t-shirt), and then headed over to the SCS/ECE alumni event in the Gates building, where I ran into a bazillion bazillion people.  It's great to see everyone at that event -- and I know soooo many people -- but it's hard to really talk to anyone!  Like I need to make plans with jweill for Japan next week but we only had a little bit of time to really talk about that. Still it was good to see people, and eat ice cream, and wander around.  Also the swag this year was a USB battery charger, which is kinda cool.

I wandered around campus for a while with the 2004 gang because they were doing that and I wanted to go through Wean/etc anyway, so we did that, wandering in and out of halls and classes and stuff.  Eventually I left them in DH2315 and I made my way back to Roman's place for the cslounge BBQ, though I didn't get there until like 4:30pm (and I even took a bus up the hill to hurry that up).  Saw lots of people at the BBQ too.  Apparently some of them even still read my livejournal, which was funny to realize.  Well, really only Benoit, I suppose.  A few people asked me about my boyfriend, and I said "I'll bring him next year," which either guarantees we'll still be together then or definitely won't be.  I'm not sure which.  I watched Adam play Magic with Tao and Gopi's kid (who's like 8 years old and thus not really the right age to play with the other kids, he was SO psyched that anyone would play with him), and then I went back to Oakland to catch up with people at Fuel and Fuddle for dinner for real.  Yay.  (And Chris lost the credit card roulette AGAIN, with the cash going to Mark this time.)  So that was good, and we went to Dave&Andy's for ice cream afterwards, and then they all went to drink and play party games, so I made my way back up to Squill, this time walking the entire 2-3 miles, though I stopped in at campus briefly on the way.  Couldn't find the arcade that I thought used to be in the basement of the UC, that was sort of sad.  Oh well.

I should probably be asleep already but figured I'd write this if I'm still awake.  Yay.

Neck things

Apr. 2nd, 2014 11:13 am
So two years ago I had a herniated disc in my neck that caused something like 3 weeks of unending neck pain, shoulder stiffness, and my left arm eventually going dead, which sucked.  I did medication for it (anti-inflammatories and muscle relaxants) and after 2 months everything seemed to have healed itself.  I think in theory I was supposed to do some therapy except that since my arm kind of got its strength back naturally anyway, I didn't worry about it.

2 days ago, in the middle of the Sunday-Monday morning, I woke up in the middle of the night with neck pain.  It didn't stop for the rest of the night, and felt an awful lot like it did last time I had this problem.  I got up, took some Advil, made an appointment at the medical center here at Google.  When I got home later that evening (I'd slept in Menlo Park for most of the weekend) I found my super-strong anti-inflammatory pills from 2 years ago and took one of them, and I put an extra pillow under my neck and slept pretty decently Monday night.

Tuesday afternoon the doctor told me that basically, once you have a ruptured disc in your neck, it's common to have relapses every now and then if you're not careful, and that I was doing the right thing by taking the anti-inflammatories.  She wrote me a new prescription for them, printed out a sheet of some orthopedists in the area, and basically told me to see whether things got worse in the next week or two, and if they do, go to an orthopedist and get an MRI and a new diagnosis.

I guess the worry is that since it's a recurrence -- it's possible that I didn't really truly heal up the first time.  Or whatever.  I'm just worried because they told me the first time that in severe cases, they do surgery and reinforce your neck discs with metal, and that just sounds awful, both the surgery and the metal.  I'm not sure what to do about this though as it sounds like it's basically just a degenerative condition that I can't *really* do much about except try not to do things that strain my neck.  :(
And it was awesome!  I didn't really plan anything and for the most part didn't really leave Ballard and it was as perfect a weekend as I could have hoped for.  Oren and Melanie let me stay with them, and Carl was staying there too, and Adam and Rehana live around the corner, so basically I mostly just hung out with all of my lovely cslounge friends who I have been friends with for 17 years or whatever.  Like the first day I got to town and played puzzle fighter with Oren, we went to Chinook's for dinner with all 6 of us to try to keep Carl awake until a reasonable hour, and that's about it.  Second day we (Oren and Carl and I) got up and walked to Market St to see the Lego Movie at the Majestic (I'd seen it last weekend but wanted to see it again because AWESOME) and had cupcakes beforehand, and we watched more Olympic skating and then went to Taste of India with Adam and Rehana for dinner, and then Carl and Adam and I went to Adam's place to play Tzolk'in, the Mayan gears game, which Adam of course won, but it was fun and now I've learned how to play.  Today we went to lunch with Zach, and he took us around the Fremont Google office so I could badge into doors and collect it on my "visited offices" list.  And we had Thai food and it was great to see Zach and I also got to see Fiona the puppy again and she's still soooo cute.  (Oren's dog Cooper is also cute but he dislikes people so it's not really fun to be like "Will you be my friend?" and have him wander off, whereas Fiona is just a ball of energy and she's like "BE MY FRIEND BE MY FRIEND CHASE ME AROUND OH BOOOOOY!")  In the afternoon Django came over and we basically all just sat around in the guest room playing puzzle fighter and talking, for a few hours, and then Oren took me to the airport and I got Ivar's for dinner and now I'm home in SF.

Seriously, I think that it was really good to just chill out a lot of the time with Carl, and I'm really glad I decided to spend my long weekend in Ballard.  Yay.
(written in bits and pieces over a week or so)

I never wrote an entry about MIT Mystery Hunt when it happened, and that may or may not be a good thing.  I kind of do want to capture a little bit about this year since I rarely write up puzzle events anymore (either because they'll be rerun and there's not supposed to be spoilers, or because I just get lazy, or especially last year, because I've been staffing way more than playing lately).  I'm on team Up Late, if you don't know; got hooked up with them while I was still living in Seattle, bizarrely enough.

This year, thanks to last year being The Hunt That Would Not End, rather than scheduling a flight back on Sunday night, I scheduled one back on Monday afternoon.  (And after talking to people, I clearly wasn't the only person that did that.)  I also went and got a hotel room, figuring that whatever, I work at Google now, I can afford it even if I don't split it with anyone.  (Of course, in the end I split the room with Matt, Kendra and Jess for the first 2 nights and Kenny for the last night.)  This time, I'd even been to Boston inbetween hunts and met up with a lot of the core members of my Mystery Hunt team when I was there last summer, so it wasn't like an entire year and coming back like "wait who are you guys again?"

Anyway, so I showed up on a redeye Friday morning super-early, and realized that the best thing I should do was to go to the Google Cambridge office, which is across the street from MIT.  Found a cafe, got some breakfast, charged my phone and laptop, and even actually did some work for a bit.  After an hour or two I realized I should go visit friends in the office and I had coffee with David Rochberg, who I hadn't seen in YEEEEEEEEEAAAARRRSSS so that was really cool.  After that it was time to go to campus and help unload the cars, so I did that.  (You'd think we were moving into a dorm if you saw us unload for hunt -- people bringing in sleeping bags, a fridge, a computer and printer, tons of food, etc etc.)  Went to visit Left Out across the hall from us since I have a lot of friends on that team.  All the normal pre-hunt stuff, really.

Kickoff was in the Kresge Theater I guess (we have a few other CMU alumni on our team although it's largely MIT, obviously, but we were like "does EVERY college have a Kresge Theater?") and I spent a while going around saying hi to all my friends there, which took a REALLY LONG TIME although I couldn't find Sarah and Ross until right before the presentation started!  And I apparently missed a whole bunch of people too, evidenced by getting emails afterwards by one or two like "I saw you at kickoff but you were too far away to talk to".  I know that people joke about MIT Mystery Hunt being the Burning Man of the puzzle hunt scene, but it really is in a lot of ways.  All the teams are the different camps and you're all in weird numbered areas and planning to keep weird sleeping hours for several days and... well, at least I'm pretty sure there's less drugs at MITMH unless you count caffeine.  Sarah's team even had an entire room full of tents and beds and sleeping bags despite the warning at the beginning how "you really shouldn't PLAN to sleep on campus".

So anyway, kickoff starts as this presentation from John Galt on how there shouldn't be puzzles anymore.  And then he gets interrupted by the Cheshire Cat, who explains that Wonderland has invaded MIT and we have to go solve puzzles to fix the holes between the two worlds, and then the reveal of their actual team name this time -- Alice Shrugged, which is probably the most perfect pun in puzzle hunt history, aside from my own amusement at having come full circle since my first ever puzzle hunt was the Microsoft Puzzle Hunt 7, which was ALSO Alice in Wonderland themed.

My team had decided beforehand that we were going to get a photo with Tim the MIT mascot, so we went to do that first... it was pretty funny since there were all these people in singles or doubles getting photos and then we run in with like 15 people.

Up Late Meets Tim

Good times.

So we grab some lunch from the student center, get back, and miraculously, the hunt has actually begun on time!  Whoa.  There were 3 puzzles to start, which we finished pretty quickly, and got some more, and we finished some more of those, and I was mostly just kinda helping out (I mean, with like 5 puzzles and 30 people that's how it goes).  Then a puzzle was unveiled called "Upstairs, Downstairs" which we realized was a runaround.  Despite that I didn't actually go to MIT, I love doing runarounds, because I figure, well, I flew to Boston, why the hell would I want to sit in a room the whole weekend?  So me, Ryan, Noah, and David set off to start looking around at some of these places, especially because we're in building 1 and some of them are nearby.  We very quickly realize that these descriptions are all a little bit... off.  That is, the first one we did was around the corner from us, and it said "An Athena printer can be found in Building 1 in an alcove directly across from Dr. Schuhmann's office", except that the printer is actually across from some other guy's office down the hall.  We take note of that and also notice there's a staircase between them and write down the number, and the first few we check out are all kind of like that -- two places with a staircase inbetween them.  (Which we only were caring about because the title was Upstairs Downstairs, which turned out not to matter at all.)  Off we go (minus David) on a campus-wide wander to find all the locations.  Some were definitely easier than others -- like some refer to distinct places like "as I go across the bridge from 16 to 56..." where others were just like, "does anyone know where there's an alcove with laserdiscs?"  (The answer: Building 16, 6th floor.  Someone on our team said "I think it's in 16, but I dunno where", so we started at the top and worked our way down.)  Actually the laserdiscs is notable because that was where we actually broke the puzzle mechanism.spoiler )
Armed with that insight, we plan a route around campus to go to a few more places and to try to get the 2-3 letters we think will break the answer string for us, and sure enough, we solve the puzzle a little while later.

By this point it's around 4pm and our team has solved a good chunk of the MIT round puzzles (which we found out later were purposefully supposed to be fairly easy).  Around then we received a puzzle called Black and White -- you had to go to HQ to get this because it was a huge sheet of letters and a tiny sheet of letters.  So I'm watching people go "hey, look, there's this passage from Alice in Wonderland but there are some other words in there too," I Google the other words and find out that it's a Taylor Swift song.  So we're highlighting the Alice stuff and the Taylor Swift stuff in green and red (happen to be the markers we pick up) and about 7-8 lines in I'm like "OMG THIS IS GOING TO BE A QR CODE" and everyone's like "naaahhhh" and I'm like "yeeeaaaahhhh" and then having had the insights to solve the puzzle I really didn't feel like going through more Taylor Swift lyrics :)  So I helped David enlarge the smaller one by taking a photo with my camera and gimping it up big and print out so he could do the same thing, since it was another combination of lyrics and another QR code.

A Swift QR code

I was signed up to do "Auditions" at 6pm anyway, so I left for that with Kenny and Kendra.  It had said to send "musical members of your team".  So what happened is, we got redistributed into 8 tables, and every table had a bunch of notes on it -- musical notes -- with little notations to clue you to where the next note may be.  The "puzzle" part of this was putting the notes together and figuring out what song it was.  A lot of other tables were singing Disney music so we figured it was a disney song, but... we somehow got stuck with Following the Leader, from Peter Pan, while EVERY other table got easier things like "When You Wish Upon A Star" or whatever.

Then we got sheet music to the song we were doing, and we were told to do the audition "Wonderland-style" which meant that every person would sing one word of the song, in order.  Of course, our song was ridiculous and we had this discussion of whether "teedle-ee-dee" was one word or three, but figured it didn't REALLY matter.  We choreographed it in such that the guy who actually figured out what song it was was the "leader" and he would just do various things like march or pump his fists and we would also all do that.  So every team got up and performed their song in their own fashion.  In the end, it turned out there was no puzzle to be solved by the songs themselves -- each group had one person get a "callback" and those people each got one word and we got a phrase as the "answer" for the entire activity.  This, as it turns out, was also to set the stage for the entire weekend of events that were not supposed to be stupid or frustrating although possibly embarrassing.

Notes puzzle

Audition

(Other events during the weekend that I did not go to involved Cards Against Wonderland, and the one I regret missing, Wonderwang, a word-based version of the British comedy gameshow parody Numberwang.)

Ian and I were originally supposed to sneak out for dinner on Friday night to a nice place, but I think since Lokie was sick and wasn't there, and a few other suspects that'd normally do that, we just got dinner from the student center instead.  Doh.  I decided to take that opportunity to run off and check into the hotel, too, since they didn't have rooms ready that morning.  I also took a 2-hour nap or so.  Matt texted me to let me know that 1) Kendra and Jess wanted to get into the hotel room and 2) we were ready to do another runaround.

See, during the original runaround, we had come across several QR codes with playing cards.  When we tried to do anything with them originally, we got a "sorry, your team can't access this yet" error and didn't think much of it.  Well, these were the runarounds for the MIT round.  We were told to split into 3 groups -- a Spades, Diamonds, and Clubs team, and to start in 3 separate places.

So I came back and gave Kendra a hotel key, and then we grouped up for this runaround.  Matt and I decided to take Spades, Ryan and Zach took Diamonds, Jeff and Dave took Clubs.

Spades was pretty reasonable.  We had to solve a bunch of riddles mostly.  There was one that required you to look through a spaceship photo and find some words, another had you sorting through faces on the staircase outside Lobby 7 (we came back to our room to finish that), another wanted you to find certain words on the sides of the buildings in Killian Court (it was nighttime so we just googled them), then we had to go up to Stata and find one by the Digi-Comp.  Let me stop there for a second because several things happened at that point:

1) We found Ryan and Zach looking TOTALLY FUCKING CONFUSED in part of Stata.  There was this thing on the wall with a satellite dish and some words and they were like "we're just not getting anything out of this".  We tried to help them for a bit and were then like "...sorry but we've got our own puzzle to find."
2) Bizarrely, we had a bit of a misadventure finding our puzzle.  See...
2a) we found this "Digi-Comp" thing which was like a pinball machine with pool balls showing you how mathematic operations work.  It was cool.  We played with it.  We took photos.  Etc.
2b) then we realized we had no fucking clue where to find our puzzle.  We thought it was in the Gates Tower, so we went up stairs.
2c) We found Nerd Crossing!  But no puzzle.
2d) but get this, the QR code was actually RIGHT NEXT TO THE DIGI-COMP AND WE JUST HADN'T SEEN IT.  I had even taken a photo of it.  Sheesh.
3) So we found the QR code at the same time as these other undergrad-looking kids, and all of us set out to figure it out.

Digi-Comp

Nerd Crossing

Eventually it turned out to be a list of donors at the front of the building.  Yay.  We went onwards to our next puzzle, checking back in the lobby, and Ryan and Zach were gone, so we figured, yay, they solved it.  We went up to a hall in Building 26, where first we had to double back to find our QR code, and also, those same undergrad kids were there.  We found it and found the thing it was referring to (cosmic ray chandeliers) and then went onwards to the Humanities building, where again, we pretty much walked there with the undergrad kids.

HOWEVER what happened there was pretty funny.  There was this weird poem that made absolutely no sense and it said something like to enter the major name over a "being that emerges from a poem".  We found an oyster, and on a whim I entered the department over it (I think it was Philosophy) and it was CORRECT?!  The undergrad kids, and Matt, were still wandering back and forth going WTF, so I called Matt over as subtly as I could to show him that we had the right answer and were leaving and to be quiet.  So we snuck out, never to see those poor undergrad kids again.  Ha ha.

Well, except really, the joke was on us.  I forget, I am skipping one of the puzzles as there were 8 total, but anyway, we ended up outside the Green Building and had to read a QR code outside it and use a plaque INSIDE it, only we couldn't get inside, AND it was FREEZING outside by then, so I took some cellphone shots of the plaque and we ran for cover in the nearest building we could find to solve the puzzle.  Which we did, and it was the final one!  Yay!  We were about to head back when...

...we ran into Jeff and Dave and the Clubs team.  Who were also apparently kinda stuck.

So we all regrouped back at Team HQ, where we found Ryan and Zach, and they ALSO were stuck and hadn't finished their runaround.  Doh!

Well, being as I am Queen of Runarounds and all, I was like NO THAT IS NOT ACCEPTABLE WE ARE HEADING BACK OUT.  So I joined the Clubs group, while meanwhile Rena solved the Diamonds puzzle (turned out you had to index into the word from the beginning, not from where the lines pointed to the word).

So our Clubs puzzles from there involved, let's see.  There was a bunch of little hero figures in a hallway and you had to figure out how many weeks it had been since they'd been there, and I'm like "look up the hacks page!"  Then there was a thing where we had to find these stickers on a door... in a hallway that Ryan and I had already gone to for the Upstairs Downstairs runaround, so I knew exactly where they were.  Then we had this really weird thing in Building 13 involving a bunch of professor's names.  This one was kinda clever -- they had 5 names but 6 spaces for the answer.  We were stuck on this for a bit because we had failed to notice that one guy was "W. Craig" instead of just Craig, and we thought we had the string "Lecin" as the answer.  We tried anagramming it, entering words like "Nicely", etc.  But with the W, I had the string "Lewin".  So while the other two were looking around for other ideas, I googled "MIT Professor Lewin" and found out there was a guy named Walter Lewin, entered "Walter", and it was correct!  BAM.  Our last puzzle involved a bunch of rhymes to clue things in the historical posters in the "150 Years of MIT Engineering" hallway in Building 1, and the Diamonds guys had finished so they joined up with us and we all solved it together.

Having solved the three runarounds we got invited to come to 26-100's basement at like 3:30am, so we went there, unlocked a big case using the three words as the combinations (That was cool), and got out a vorpal sword so we could defeat the Jabberwock.  Only thing is, when we met the Jabberwock he was like "DON'T FIGHT ME!  EEEEK!  I AM NOT THE BAD GUY, YOU NEED TO SOLVE THIS PUZZLE TO FIGURE OUT WHO THE REAL EVIL PERSON IS", and we received a Jabberwock deck of cards, which was essentially the overall MIT round meta, and what we find out is that "The Beast Is Ms Alice Liddell"... which meant from this point onwards the hunt was going to be in Wonderland, and we were going to be figuring out how to defeat Alice.  Whee.

I stayed up until around 6-7am and then went to the hotel to sleep for real, waking up around noon, grabbing lunch at Chipotle, and I guess I got back to the room between 1-2pm.  I helped out on some random puzzles and then we saw one called Oyster Card!  It was a London Underground puzzle combined with a Masyu!

Well, several things made me imminently qualified to do this puzzle:
1) TRAINS!
2) Masyu!
3) I had JUST GOTTEN BACK FROM LONDON and infact still had a Tube map in my bag.

Oyster card!

As it turns out, unlike every other team in the hunt, not only did we have the CORRECT Tube map -- from May 2013 -- BUT since I had just been there, I even knew exactly what the various errata were.  "Oh, yeah.  They're fixing the escalators at Embankment station as of January 8th, so that no longer transfers to Northern and Bakerloo."

Don't get me wrong, the masyu was still not that easy even armed with all that, but we still had a much easier time than many other teams from what I can tell.  Matt and Jess and I hammered out 2 of the 3 masyu puzzles and then we got the final answer by just kind of anagram-bitching the heck out of the trinary.  Woohoo.

Also, it was snowing that day, so I went out to frolic in the snow for a little.  It was actually a surprisingly warm mystery hunt, all things considered.

After we finished Oyster Card, someone said "Hey, there's a Japanese subway puzzle too, have you seen it, Deanna?"

LITTLE DID THEY KNOW THAT THIS WAS MY INTRODUCTION INTO THE MOST IN-MY-WHEELHOUSE PUZZLE I HAVE EVER ENCOUNTERED IN MY PAST 10+ YEARS OF PUZZLE HUNTING.

So this puzzle was called 1!2!3!4! 4649! which I immediately recognized 4649 as the word "yoroshiku" and the title as a song title, and as the solution even says, "This puzzle involves 3 things: (1) some massive and massively popular Japanese pop idol groups based in three Japanese cities; (2) the subway systems in those cities; and (3) a numeral encoding that links them together."

Yes, it was an AKB48 puzzle combined with a Japanese subway puzzle combined with goroawase.  Seriously.  I heavily doubt there was ANYONE else at Mystery Hunt this year who has as indepth knowledge as I do of all three of those things off the top of their head.

(If you are somehow reading this entry and don't know me, you have to understand that I taught junior high school English in Japan for several years, that I am a GIGANTIC TRAIN NERD, that I have been to 46 out of 47 prefectures in Japan by taking the trains, and that I'm pretty much fluent in Japanese, as long as you either like baseball or are a teenager.  Not that I like AKB48 that much on my own, but you have to understand that I was teaching JHS the year that they really exploded to fame, and so I heard SO MUCH ABOUT THEM from my 13-15-year-old students that I seriously can probably name almost the entire original team A lineup and recognize most of the popular ones by face.)

Seriously the only way this puzzle could have been MORE in my wheelhouse was if the people part of it was Japanese baseball players instead of teenage girl idol popstars.

So I sit down and distill out the entire puzzle before anyone else even really gets a look at it.  Immediately knowing it's AKB48, SKE48, and NMB48, I identify all the people, and quickly fill out the numbers for all the letters in the grid (I mean, every single 5884 is a Kobayashi for crying out loud), and then I get to translating back the subway stations from letters to numbers, and I quickly even see that "usv" is 758 or "Nagoya", which I know off the top of my head is H-08, Higashiyama line.  I got almost all the train stations and got stuck on maybe 2 -- especially Yaominami because I was convinced that 80373 should have been "yama minami" somewhere but couldn't find such a station.  So I call in Ian (who is Taiwanese but also speaks Japanese to some extent and we both have "kanji" listed under our "special skills" on our team website), and he double-checks my work, also gets a little confused with the subway stops, but we basically manage to figure out the answer to the puzzle and then I back-get the subway stops.  Entire puzzle done in less than an hour.

It's funny because a few people were later like "...yeah... that puzzle took us quite a while... we thought of you because of the Japanese baseball teams..." and I'm like "but it wasn't even baseball related!"

I can't really remember exactly where the next few hours went.  I think I spent a few more cycles on the IAP puzzle (THIS PISSED ME OFF TO NO END BUT MAYBE I SHOULD WRITE A PARAGRAPH ABOUT IT LATER) and helping identify songs for Compose Yourself, and things like that.  I do remember that I went off to grab food after doing the AKB48 puzzle, and there was some kinda pizza thing going on later on, and our team was in the midst of the Duck Konundrum at that point, and... the next thing I remember doing for sure was going to the Ice Cream Social that was being held between Illegal, Immoral, and Fattening and Left As An Exercise For The Reader.  This was Saturday night at midnight in Building 26.  Bizarrely, I was one of the only people there who wasn't on either of those teams or also in their hallway.  We found out that this was because a lot of the teams where we had friends were in the midst of getting to the final runaround then.  (Like we called a friend of ours on Death and Mayhem and were like "WE HAVE ICE CREAM" and he was like "THAT'S NICE BUT WE'RE UH... BUSY")

But on the other hand it was nice to take a break and see people and eat ice cream.  I hadn't seen a lot of the people on those teams up to that point so I could hang out with Sarah and Julia and Mark and Ross and Helene and everyone for a while and that was good.  And it gave me an excuse to get out and walk around again (since we hadn't had any runarounds in a while at that point).

Ice cream social

Ice cream social

I also used this opportunity, since I was in building 26, to go downstairs to the 2nd floor and visit the Rage of the Quebecois team, aka "the half of Manic Sages that I actually was friends with".  So I saw Sean, and Mr. Wright, and Glenn, and various other people that at this point look familiar even if I can't remember their names.  Seems I missed Dave&Jill and Darby and all but that's okay.

Also on the way there (or way back?  I forget) I saw where they had set up part of the final maze in the lobby of building 7, a thing where Alice and the Rabbit would be moving around with various objects.  Ankur was there with it so I took that opportunity to say hi and to complain that he wasn't around for Berkeley Mystery Hunt this year.  It's a very weird thing in that I know he recognizes me as someone he should know from puzzling but I dunno if he remembers that I was his computer science TA at Governor's School :)  Many of my PGSS students have been involved in MITMH in one way or the other (Keith STILL goes back every year with the Simmons team) and it's very cool.

So, back in the room.  We apparently had a puzzle called "Obsessive-Compulsive Dickishness" where they wanted us to call HQ to get it, so we do, and Dave and I go off to building 13, where we meet Zoz and another guy I don't know.  They show us a series of papers -- I immediately recognize it as The Oatmeal comic strip about Sriracha and make a comment as such ("It looks like spicy oatmeal") -- and then put it through a paper shredder right in front of us.  Since Jeff had apparently asked for "extra dickishness", they also threw it out of the paper shredder onto the floor, kicked the strips around, and then ran out of the room, throwing a freezer bag at us on their way out.  So we gather the strips up into the bag and come back to the room like "Well, at least it's not that fucking jigsaw puzzle", and then Jeff and Kenny and I and whoever else were around spend a while reassembling the comics.  There were XXXXXXXX's all over it instead of the real text, and every now and then a number (like "XXXX3XXX X12X"), so you had to find out the real text and get the real letters, all 30-something of them.  At that point it spelled out something like "juicy cock sauce that sounds like cocovan", which we read out to the other room and Ian immediately is like "dude, the answer is Coq au Vin" and we're like "ohhhhhhhh."

Jeff displayed intense OCD by completely taping together the final comic page, which was the "I love you.  -- the Oatmeal" in the real one but said "I love you.  --Alice Shrugged" in our version.

Dickishness

Reassembled oatmeal

Now let's see if I can remember all the crazy stuff that led up to me taking a nap around 6-7am.

So we finished that (and later on Zoz visited us and was like "nicely done.  send us a pic of that and maybe we'll include you in our wrapup slides.") and then I helped with some other puzzles, like some insight into Mashed Potatoes or whatever the mashup puzzle was called, and helping people fill out a crossword in Korean, and more attempts at putting together songs in Compose Yourself, and then... it got into those hours of the morning when only 10 or so of us are still there.  And we decided to tackle the Tea Party meta, since we had something like 9-10 of the 12 answers going in after I helped break mashups.

At this point we'd figured out that like, some of the things were part of 12 days of christmas, and some were Chinese zodiac, and some were full moons, and I'm like "wait, then we could totally backsolve some of this.  Like look, we're missing 7, that's "swans a swimming, right?  It's totally going to be Natalie Portman or something like that."

The phone rings 5 minutes later as we're still trying to get letters out of the proper places and it's like "Natalie Portman is correct for a Rose by Any Other... Deanna did you backsolve that?"

No, it turned out someone in Seattle who didn't even hear me say that had actually front solved it.  Ha!

So while we're still banging our heads on this thing and marvelling over my HILARIOUS BACKSOLVE, the phone rings another 5 minutes later and Mat or whoever the hunt manager was then says "uhh... thanks?" hangs up, and is like "guys, WHO THE FUCK SOLVED THE TEA PARTY META?  YOUR ANSWER OF GIVE HIM A HAND IS CORRECT"

Turns out it was Rena.  Sitting over on the other side of the room listening to us but ostensibly solving something else, she just kinda looked at the letters and at a 12-letter phrase and decided that the best way to help the hatter happened to be to give him a hand.

WHAT THE HELL.

Still, that epic guess pretty much eclipsed every single other epic guess during this hunt.  Seriously.

I should probably mention that it was our third or fourth meta at this point?  So we're like "OMG WE MIGHT ACTUALLY FINISH THE HUNT?"

Now, keep in mind that we were in building 1 and the final runaround went right past our classroom.  So like, Random actually went by while we were still finishing the Oatmeal puzzle, and I stuck my head out to hear the noise.  An hour or whatever it was after that I stuck my head out and saw Nick Baxter, and I was like "WTF!  what team?" and he's like "Luck!" and I'm like "congrats!"

And around then our buddies across the hall Left Out also went to do the final runaround (Dan and Corey told me that's what they were up to as they went off -- and I think we even passed by them when we went out to meet the Mad Hatter at 5am, they were still doing the final maze.  There was a lot more backstory behind that, that I found out the next week when I had lunch with them back at Google -- apparently they were asked to step aside and let Codex play through part of the final runaround because Left Out explicitly did not want to win the hunt but Codex might).

We saw Codex go by as well.  What a huge team.

Anyway, the Left Out guys got back around 6am and so Todd looked at our solved status for me since I was like "I want to take a nap but I'm worried we might actually be somewhat close to the end?"  We'd even had some GC visit us and tell us that we were doing well for a non-winning team and all.  But Todd said "you guys have several more hours -- go to sleep, you look super tired."  So I did, though I helped Left Out clean up and they gave us some of their snacks and stuff.  Rena and I both wrote our phone numbers on the board like "going to sleep, call us if the final runaround happens".

...for the record, no, we did not finish the hunt.  A whole lot of people didn't come back on Sunday once the coin was found.  Shrug.

So I slept until 1pm?  I came back, ate some bagels that were going to go stale, and then said "I want to see what's up with the vinyl record we got from the White Queen", so I went to the MIT Music Library in building 14, where they have record players.  It turned out that you really only had to listen to the record for the final runaround, which we didn't know.  The librarian was all like "Are you an MIT student?  You are totally not supposed to be here," but I explained Mystery Hunt to her and gave her my driver's license in return for headphones and a music machine password.  The record was just some words forwards and some words backwards.  I figured out how to record it to an mp3 file, emailed that to my team, and went back to HQ.

Did I mention that there was this IAP puzzle that I thought was a runaround but people told me it probably wasn't due to nothing being in the rooms mentioned on it?  I had an idea on my way back to the room when I saw an MTG poster, since we had picked up a clue from the puzzle of "put shows in chronological order" and just didn't know what shows.  So we went and looked at that... but yeah, that was wrong.  It really was an epic runaround, which is what I found out the next day at wrapup.  So sad.  I can't believe I didn't go check the classrooms myself.

Anyway, so hunt ended not with a bang but with a whisper.  We packed up the room and put stuff into people's cars, and then 10 of us retreated to John Hancock's for dinner, and the Patriots had already lost and we got to see the 49ers lose too.  Hooray?  Went back to the hotel, and Kenny was splitting the room with me that night, and we played through something like 15 levels of a puzzle called Walk Across Some Dungeons before deciding we were too tired and went to sleep.

I could write more about wrap-up, but that's online somewhere.  I did get my Legal Sea Foods fix beforehand, and the funny part was my flight was at 3:35pm and wrap-up ended at 1:45pm.  I RAN to the Kendall T stop (with Eric, kinda) and I did manage to make my flight, which Nick and Darby were also on.

I know it's already been said by a lot of people, but this really was a great hunt all around, definitely in terms of people having fun, which you would think would be the biggest requirement.  I don't feel like I was necessarily as productive as I have been in past years, but I also don't think I ever got to spend 18 hours straight doing runarounds, and I think that's actually pretty awesome.

5 years

Jan. 27th, 2014 08:05 am
dr4b: (pouty)
So my dad died 5 years ago yesterday, and what's weird is, I remember that at the time I wrote about everything here on LJ, but my instinct yesterday to commemorate was to change my FB picture to be one with me and my dad and to write about it there.

Oddly, I don't even think my dad ever had a FB account?  He did have an LJ account and I had a no-Dad filter here (well... it's really the filter of "I friended you, but I don't really know you, so didn't want you to see my REAL friends-locked thoughts").

Anyway, the biggest thing I thought about this year was how much my dad would have loved to get a tour of Google and how proud he'd be of me working there (and that I started working there on what would have been his 70th birthday).  Sucks that I can't do that.  But I also wouldn't be at Google now without the childhood I had of CODE ALL THE THINGS! so I guess it really does work out.

I had a pretty good weekend all things considered -- walked 7 miles through GGP with a friend on Saturday, went to a birthday party Saturday night, walked another 4 miles through the city with other friends on Sunday, then skipped the boardgames party I was invited to on Sunday afternoon/evening because I was exhausted.  I like being exhausted in that aspect.  Legs still hurt though, and tonight is ballroom dance class :)
I need to finish London in order to write mystery hunt.  (been doing this in pieces over the last few days/weeks and finished just now on the airplane back from Hawaii so it may be discombobulated.  This covers the week of Dec 30 - Jan 5)

Monday: I showed up at the London Belgrave office... and it turned out absolutely nobody was there on Chrome DevRel.  Oops!  So not only did I not know who to work with but I didn't even know where to go.  I decided to explore and found an awesome room that was full of Winnie-the-Pooh bears, comfy chairs, hammocks, bookcases with O'Reilly books, and was just a generally quiet nice lounge, and I worked from there the next two days.  Most of the office was very quiet.  I had lunch with my suitemates from the apartment actually -- they randomly recognized me in the cafeteria -- and the rest of the day was quiet.  I had my normal "10am" meeting at 6pm on irc with everyone, which meant that by the time I got out it was too late to see a show that night, but instead I still walked to Leicester Square and bought tickets to see Charlie and the Chocolate Factory the next day (the guy at the box office told me it was the only available ticket in the next several days).  I got fish and chips for dinner at one of the tourist places in Piccadilly (I basically decided that the road between Leicester Square and Piccadilly basically is Broadway, and the entire area is Times Square.  It's VERY similar.  I walked home from there and attempted to do laundry, which was a bit of a disaster and I ended up getting little white lint balls all over my clothes.  Of course there was no lint roller at the apartment, so I had to go hunt for one.

Tuesday: I started off at the Belgrave office again (did I mention that breakfast there consisted of like 3 kinds of bacon, 2 kinds of sausage, and then random things like hash browns, tomatoes, and beans?) and after lunch I went to the Central St. Giles office.  I stopped off at a Tesco looking for a lint roller and failed, but after walking around CSG, which was almost entirely empty though I did meet a few nice people in one of the corners, I went to a Sainsbury's and DID find a lint roller.  Hooray Sainsbury's!  Oh, I stayed at CSG until 5-6pm though -- they had a nice library with a view of the London Eye and all kinds of crazy stuff, so I found an alcove with a comfy chair and did work there for a few hours.

I wrote more about Tuesday/Wednesday in another entry already.  Basically I saw the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory musical, had dinner at Shake Shack, and decided to skip the fireworks because the Underground wasn't really running downtown.

Wednesday: Walked to the London Eye around noon.  Decided not to go on it because it was too windy/cold.  Walked to Covent Garden, had higher-class fish and chips at a pub, spent several hours at the London Transport Museum which was awesome, saw a t-shirt that I wanted but didn't get (this comes back into play on the weekend), bizarrely had McDonald's for dinner before the Dirty Dancing musical.

Thursday: So this day I actually had a buddy in the London office as my mentor Addy came in for Thu/Fri to hang out and work with me!  Whee!  So we spent a while talking and planning our screenshot marathon for Friday, and having lunch and stuff like that.  Yay!  In the evening I had to switch hotels from the Google apartment to a hotel near Victoria station, so I did that and walked over to the London Eye in the evening.  It was a little rainy but not terrible so I rode the thing (also the great part was, no line!)  I walked back to Victoria, wasn't sure what to do for dinner.  I thought of going to Pret A Manger (WTF this shop is EVERYWHERE in London) but the one nearby was just closing as I was thinking of going in so I went to an Indian restaurant across from the theater Wicked was in.  It was TERRIBLE.  Seriously, I was the only patron in there for a while, the waiter was almost rude, the food was lousy, the naan was burnt... I've heard London has such good Indian food, how did I pick one of the worst ones ever?

Friday: We had planned to have a Screenshot-a-Thon (basically our devtools screenshots needed a refresh and it's hard to get it done so we planned to do that with a bunch of people) and invite in our GDE Umar (if you read DevTools docs you've seen stuff by me and Addy and Umar and Paul and Jared so it's not like my team is a secret), so that was what took up my entire day, seriously.  I mean, in the morning we did some prep, then Umar got there, then we had lunch, then Addy and Umar had some stuff to talk about, and then we started our screenshot-a-thon (since Jared in Boston was snowed in he joined us early, and Paul came in when it was a reasonable hour in CA).  It was actually a very surreal and somewhat boring experience in some ways — we’d divided up the pages to update, and thus we were all sitting there mostly silently doing screenshots.  At least it was slightly less tedious by having everyone together, and it was nice that like, at 5pm or so Addy took us up to the London version of a TGIF and we had some food and chilled out, and then did more screenshots.  Addy went home around 6:30pm, Umar left around 7:30 although we spent like an hour talking on his way out.  (He's a nice guy and we don't get to talk often.  He kinda reminds me of some of my old interns from Tagged.) I stayed in the office until 10pm and basically went back to the hotel and crashed.

Then I had a weekend of wandering around London before heading back home to SF.  Originally I thought I’d go see a couple musicals over the weekend, but it turns out that there are all these weird rules in London about what can be open on Sunday!  So a lot of the shows I was interested in didn’t have Sunday shows!  Grr.  Also it was rainy on Saturday and looked clear on Sunday, so I decided I’d see 2 shows on Saturday and go to Greenwich on Sunday.

Saturday started with me going to TKTS in Leicester Square, basically, and I got tickets to see the Mousetrap at 4pm and Once at 7:30pm.  Then I went to Masala Zone for lunch (on the recommendation of Chris and others)… though it didn’t open until 12pm and I got there like 11:30, so I ended up wandering around an area called Carnaby for half an hour, and then had lunch.  It was very very good!  Then I walked to Oxford Circle station and took the train out to Baker Street station, where my idea was to go to the Sherlock Holmes museum… until I saw that the line to get in was OVER AN HOUR LONG.  Sheesh.  So instead I went into the gift store, which was amusing enough for a little while, bought a keychain, and checked in on Facebook that I was at 221B Baker Street, which I decided was good enough for me.  I went back into Baker Street station and found the original restored 1863 platform, and took the train out to  Westbourne Park station, which is in Notting Hill, and I walked to the Museum of Brands, which I had seen on the Notting Hill map and thought looked like the most “obscure random thing I bet my friends haven’t been to” thing there.  It was pretty cool, they basically had packaging of things going back to the Victorian era, like soaps and flour and goods like that, plus of course fliers and stuff for the various royal coronations and marriages, and as time goes on they have wartime things and then the chocolate evolution and then just tons of stuff.  It was pretty cool in general, except that you weren’t supposed to take photos, which is tough for me because I tend to take photos of the signs at least so I can read them later.  I did sneak in some photos of old boardgames from 100 years ago and things like that though.

Then I walked to Notting Hill Gate and took the tube to Tottenham Court again and went to see The Mousetrap, which is an Agatha Christie murder mystery play.  No, it is not a musical, but basically, I had read about it being in its historic 64th season of the original run — it has even moved to another theater, back in 1974 or so, and they still had a performance on Saturday and then again on Monday, same cast, same production, etc.  So I saw the 25472nd consecutive performance of it.  It was really good, I totally did not guess the ending (although I did guess some of the identities of people and why they got killed).  They ask you specifically not to share the ending with people so I’m not really going to talk about the show here.

My next stop was at Once, which was actually also right near Tottenham Court but… I wanted to go to Covent Garden and pick up this “Keep Calm and Call Bumblebee” shirt I had seen the other day.  EXCEPT I get there and the market is being shut down.  I ask a guy where the funny t-shirt stand is, and he’s like “oh that guy?  his stand is only here Tuesday through Thursday…” and I’m like “WHAT” and… yeah.  So that was a little sad.  I got a belgian waffle for “dinner” at a stand along the way back to the theater Once was in.

Once was pretty good, I’ll hopefully see it again when it comes to SF in a few months, from closer up (my only complaint is that it’s basically staged such that there’s very little movement, there’s only one set, and so there was a tall guy in front of me and it was hard to see parts of it).  I walked back to Victoria again as was getting standard, and had Burger King for dinner of all things (don’t ask).

Sunday I went to Greenwich!  However, I took the Tube and then the DLR there, and I transferred at Bank/Monument, and well, you know, I kind of wondered, what monument is at Monument?  (I seriously didn’t know.)  So I get out of the station to wander around a little and I immediately see this monolith-like thing which is, of course, the Monument built by Christopher Wren to commemorate the Great London Fire of 1666 which started right there in Pudding Lane.  It’s 313 steps to the top and there’s an observation deck up there and you get a certificate for climbing it, but I decided I didn’t feel like taking the time (I asked the guys at the admission window how long it takes and they were like “How good shape are you in?  It can be 5-10 minutes or more like 30 if you are slow”, and I said “Awesome, thanks but no thanks, cheers” and left).  I did, however, take a brief wander around the area and found out I was right by London Bridge and so I walked across that and back too :)

The DLR was neat and then, Greenwich!  I went through the Greenwich market but it wasn’t all that interesting.  The Royal Observatory was pretty cool though, I paid admission to that and timed it so I got a photo standing on the meridian at about 11:55am and thus could post it to Facebook and such exactly at noon like “HELLO IT IS AS NOON AS IT GETS ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD” from, well, GMT.  After that I went around the observatory and museum.  There was an entertaining little skit from this guy who basically acts out parts of the old Royal Astronomers and people like Christopher Wren and various kings and whatnot and tells the story of how the observatory ended up there and how the meridian ended up there (answer: every Astronomer bought a bigger telescope and thus had to build a bigger house for it so the meridian kept moving to THEIR telescope) and stuff.  Then I looked at clocks and things, and wanted to look at the camera obscura but it wasn’t open :(  I did, however, stick around until 1pm to watch the ball drop which signifies it being 1pm — apparently they have done that there for hundreds of years now, so sailors could set their clocks before setting sail.

I had lunch in the Greenwich Tavern on the way out — a nice Sunday turkey “dinner” — and then I went to Camden Market to look through their shops to see if I could find any funny t-shirts, and hey, get this, I found the Covent Garden guy, who runs a shop there on the weekends, and he was like “I only have the transformers t-shirts back at Covent Garden”, and despite there being a bazillion “KEEP CALM AND” whatever t-shirts there weren’t any other transformers ones :(  So after wandering around a TON of market stalls — there literally are blocks and blocks and blocks of market stalls on the weekend and you could totally get lost and find yourself in another town by the time you get out — I ended up getting a “KEEP CALM I’M AN ENGINEER” t-shirt and a Gryffindor Quidditch t-shirt.  (shrug)  I kinda liked a Yoda shirt of “CALM YOU SHALL KEEP AND CARRY ON YOU MUST, HMMM?” but not quite enough to think I’d ever wear it.  Turned out that Camden Market station is only open to exit, not enter, on Sundays, so I walked down to Mornington Crescent, and then rode the Tube out to Wembley Park so I could ride the Metropolitan Line, which I had not explicitly ridden yet, despite having bought a map of it.  Then I rode the Jubilee Line back in (which I also hadn’t ridden) to Bond Street.  I tried to go to Uniqlo but it was closed.  Ended up getting dinner at a place called Garfunkel’s (which is kinda like Applebee’s but British), where I had bangers and mash.  I walked most of the way home then gave up at Green Park and took the tube for one station from there.  Came home to the hotel and packed.  Then also found out that I could have leeched free wifi the whole time there by getting a “lobby password” which also apparently worked in my room.  Wish I had tried that earlier.  Oh well.

Monday I basically mostly just woke up and flew back to SFO.  The end?

I want to write about the rest of my trip but briefly my new year's was: NYE I went to see the musical Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at Drury Lane.  It was pretty good.  Lots of new songs (except for "Pure Imagination") and funny stage adaptations of things (I liked the golden ticket discoveries happening in a mini-TV set, and they gave actual personality to the grandparents, but the oompa-loompas were a bit odd/puppetish).  The Underground was shut down everywhere in downtown apparently, though, so I had to walk home from the theater, which was like a mile and a half.  There were a TON of people out walking towards fireworks viewing places; I decided I didn't feel like doing that, though I did have the choice to go back outside to the palace if I wanted to.  Instead, I spent a half hour around midnight lint-rolling my clothes after a mild laundry disaster my first night in the suite (I'd spent a while earlier in the day hunting for a lint roller on my way to/from our Central St Giles office), and then I went to sleep.

New Year's Day itself, well, I woke up and did a little research while listening to the wind/rain outside and then decided, whatever.  My plan all along for the day was the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden and the Dirty Dancing musical in Piccadilly, and it was just a matter of what else would surround those.  So I decided to walk to the transport museum and take the long way around the London Eye, for a 3-mile walk or so.  I stopped by Westminster Abbey and Parliament on the way of course, but it was so windy and rainy... decided NOT to ride the eye for that reason and instead continued over the Waterloo bridge.  Got lunch at a fancier pub-like restaurant near the museum, more fish'n'chips, and then there was the transport museum.  I expected to spend HOURS there but in reality only spent like 2 hours there.  It was packed with tons of children who were running around and screaming, which was unfortunate, I also had a tough time taking photos because so many people in the way.  Amusingly when I walked in the first thing I saw was a Tokyo subway map with Nakano-Sakaue on it (my station when I lived with Kozo) highlighted.  How weird!  I spent a while in the gift shop and got some cool stuff, and then wandered around the area for a bit and walked to Piccadilly via Chinatown.  I really kinda wanted something quiet and tea-like for dinner but instead ended up at McDonald's around the corner from the theater.

The musical was... well, unlike other stage adaptations of movies, this one REALLY doesn't stand alone, they basically mostly just tried to redo the film on stage, which doesn't work in many parts.  On the other hand, the dancing was fantastic (apparently the guy who plays Johnny Castle is a British ballroom champion and it really showed).  One super-weird thing is that neither Baby nor Johnny actually sing at all, they just dance.  And Baby was clearly a decent actress while Johnny was clearly just a dancer, I thought his acting was pretty terrible.  They have Billy do a decent chunk of singing and there's another random staff girl who also sings a lot of the stage versions of the songs, and a few other characters get songs like the parents and Max and whoever.

I decided not to walk home after the play but took the tube to Victoria and went for a walk a little bit just to figure out where my hotel today will be, and then I came home, did more laundry, and packed, and slept.  Now I'm back at work at the Google London office!  Whee! 
I'm staring at a hammock full of Winnie the Pooh bears and realizing that this is like the perfect sharding/distributing metaphor in some ways.  I mean, to get a a bear of big brain, you can just keep adding bears of very little brain together and having them Think of their own little Things, and it's just a matter of making sure that their Thingish things can work together with the other Thingish things when they get out into the open and start passing messages about it.
So, Friday Dec 27th wherein [livejournal.com profile] jiggery_pokery and I went to York for the day (I should backlog this later).  We got a slightly later start than anticipated but were still on a train at 11ish and in York at noonish.  We immediately went to the National Railway Museum, which was sort of the goal for the day... and we spent like 4-5 hours there in all.  I mean, in terms of train museums, and I've been to quite a few, this one is pretty huge.  There's a big main room with trains to look at (but not in, sadly) and a steam engine rotator demo, and a cafe (where we had small lunch-like stuff), and bizarrely, a shinkansen exhibit, which was one of the more memorable things to me because they seriously had a 1976 0 Series shinkansen there and the info about the shinkansen in general was from 1976.  VERY WEIRD.

There was a huge warehouse room with tons of just... stuff from trains.  Chairs, silverware, signs, model trains, light fixtures, you name it -- just things that had been on various trains at some point in the past.  They also have a model train there that they use for training people to use signals, and they also had a 9 3/4 platform sign that had been specifically made for JK Rowling's visit to the museum.  (We had to look that one up.)  Something about that room was, I was halfway through looking through it when realized I left my backpack in the cafe.  This was very distressing because my passport and Google badge were in there.  HOWEVER, despite us having left the cafe 10-15 minutes prior, the bag was still sitting there on the chair I'd been sitting at!  Wow!  I must say that I basically never left my backpack ANYWHERE again for the whole trip after that.

There was another big area full of train switching stations where you could watch the monitoring boards that show where the trains are starting/stopping, which lines are clear, etc -- and an observation deck outside it where you could watch trains going into and out of York station (and conveniently they had all of these things showing you exactly which trains would show up!)  The rest of that area was dedicated to talking about really bad train mishaps that involved mostly human errors in signalling where two trains would end up in the same place, collide, and people would die.  Also there was a section about how uniting the country in one timezone was necessary due to train travel (which I knew, but had forgotten originated in England) timetables.

The Station Hall had some royal trains and whatnot but other than that wasn't particularly interesting, and there was a train photography art room, and then we decided to leave and wander around York.  Unfortunately by that point I looked it up and found out that the Jorvik Viking Center had closed at 4pm (thanks to Puzzle Pirates I really did kinda want to go to Jorvik, it was the first island that my flag took over and I still own a shop there 10 years later).  Alas.  So, we looked for things that were still open in York and decided to go to THE CHOCOLATE STORY!

York Chocolate Story is not a tour of an actual chocolate factory, sadly, but you do get to hear a history of York and the chocolate production there, like the Terry and Rowntree families and how they evolved from making hot chocolate drinks into making real chocolates, and of course Rowntree and the KitKat bar, and we got to see a little bit of how chocolate is made, and we made chocolate lollipops, and ate truffles and all sorts of other samples.  They had a display of Japanese KitKats but didn't actually know what half of them were, which was kind of odd.

After that we walked around York a little and then took the train back to Thornaby and came home.  Amusingly, we ended up having McDonald's for dinner, and then I packed up and got ready to leave for the next leg of my journey.

London

Dec. 8th, 2013 04:02 am
I am going.  Will be in the UK from Dec 23 to Jan 6.  Working from Google London office over the week of New Year's.  Planning to go up towards Stockton and Edinburgh for the days before that.

Any and all advice is welcomed although I admit I may throw most of it out the door and spend a lot of time watching musicals and going to castles and hopefully riding some of the train lines I've built while playing British Rails in the past.

I am sorry I feel weird about making a lot of public LJ posts, although I have gone curiously introspective recently.  I blame winter.  It makes everything dark and coated in thoughtful.
I think I've gotten it down to either "go to NYC" or "go to London".

NYC pros: more friends in the area, way cheaper trip (both airfare and that I can crash with friends), way easier trip, can go down to Philly to see aunt/uncle if I want, can see Carl since he'll be in the US for a bit, etc.
NYC cons: did it last year for new year's already.  *could* work from NYC office but not easily justifiable.

London pros: new place!  I've never been to Europe!  can hang out with Chris and Megan!  can maybe go to Scotland and see James!  LOTS of musicals that I'm interested in!  can work from London office easily since I have several team members there (and one that I really really want to meet who hasn't been able to get over to the US)!
London cons: super expensive.  long plane flights.  kinda scary going to new country mostly alone.  Don't have any friends who are actually in London proper.


The other thing is that if I wait long enough I'm pretty sure Google will send me to London at some point (our whole team went over in July, apparently).  Though in that case it'd be harder to do things like go up and visit other friends and see musicals and whatever.  And I would kinda like to take trains around the UK, which I can do on vacation but not so much on a work trip.  But I mean, I think I could seriously go to the UK for 2 weeks and only have to take maybe 1 day of vacation total if I time it right (and work from the London office for a week).

Aaaaah, so indecisive.  Not sure why this is so hard to decide.  I guess my heart isn't truly psyched for either, but on the other hand I think I'd be pretty depressed if I just stayed in SF for the entire holiday season.
I'm on the bus to the Quad for Chrome Dev Summit Day 2.  This is surreal since it means I've been at Google for almost 8 weeks.  Tomorrow we're going to Vegas.  It's pretty crazy.

Anyway, the last few days have been pretty great for the most part.  I went bowling (at Google -- we have an alley) with my Noogler buddy David last Thursday, and we went bowling again last night.  I suck so much, but I guess if I keep going maybe I'll get better.  I need to strengthen my left arm I think -- I just haven't lifted weights in years and have gotten super-weak.

Brian E had a birthday/games party on Saturday, and while I was originally worried about being too old/antisocial to go, it worked out okay.  Lots of CMU people from around the class of '06, give or take a few years.  We played some games and hung out talking a lot and I surprisingly ended up running up against my Zipcar limit.  Oh, and the Zipcar was hilarious -- it was missing its right passenger mirror.  I called Zipcar and they were like "we know, we're fixing it tomorrow" but I'm like "is this LEGAL to drive?" and they said "I dunno, it is in Illinois but you're in California.  Just be careful?"  I guess it worked out okay.  I spent the afternoon before the party running errands -- got some stuff from Target including Christmas lights so I could decorate this tree in my office for "Chromesmas", and then I also went to REI to get a new backpack and some lights to use for bicycle riding -- so now I have a blinker to put on my backpack and I also have a headlight.  Hopefully this will make it less dangerous to ride Google clown bikes around at night.

Last week I also had Indian lunch at our on-campus restaurant for the first time with Jorge, dkitchin, zra, and Sheena.  It's fun to not have to calculate a check afterwards and also to have them say "what's your LDAP?" when you have a reservation.

This week zml and Matthias started at Google so I had lunch with them on Tuesday.  We were also joined by Pete who I used to play D&D with in Seattle and hadn't seen in 6 years, so that was cool, I didn't even know he was at Google.  Pretty crazy.  We went and found the Skeeball machine in one of the adjacent buildings afterwards, which was also super-fun.

Yesterday was the FIRST day of Chrome Dev Summit.  The entire week has been insane leading up to it -- lots of people in town on my team so it's been super-exciting to meet all of these people whose names I've seen all along.  And we had GDE summit so I've been hanging out with the two Devtools GDE's as well.  In general it's just been great.  I spent yesterday basically running back and forth between the conference and the social media room helping out with various things and also just getting to watch some of the talks!  It's really cool to be part of something so big and so awesome, there are like 300 people here for the summit as well as like 1000 people watching over livestream.

Wheeeeeeeee.

Though, unfortunately, yesterday was the first November 20 since... 2000, I think, that I didn't get to play Bemani on the day.  I'm going to see if I can do something about that today, especially since we have at least two DDR machines on campus.
It's been a whirlwind month or two at Google now and I can say that at least so far it really is the Disneyland of tech companies in terms of places to work.  Everybody is smart and I have so much stuff to learn and do and the food is amazing and it's been one long CMU reunion for me in some ways -- almost every day I run into or reconnect with someone I hadn't seen in forever.  (This does have the downside that I don't reconnect with other south bay friends that don't work at Google, but I mostly chalk that up to not having a car, etc.)  I've been going to ballroom dance club there and gaming club, and debating seeing about adding some more activities but the entire living-in-the-city makes that difficult, and I'm not sure I want to change that aspect of things.  I vaguely wonder if acquiring a car would make the living-in-the-city aspect of things different to be honest?  Having a car in the city sucks but it would make socializing after work a lot easier - and I could go in whenever I feel like it rather than when the shuttles show up.  Of course, then I'd have to drive, and pay for insurance and gas and all kinds of things that I don't really want to deal with, and yet I don't feel like justifying the cost of Zipcar for either.

Anyway, I'm not going anywhere for Thanksgiving (but fortunately it sounds like a few of my friends are doing Thanksgiving-like dinners here in town so I'll have plenty of people to see and that'll be good) but I was kinda debating going somewhere for Christmas/NewYears only because we get a whole bunch of holiday days around then and it seems a shame to waste them even though I don't celebrate Christmas or anything like that.

So options I thought of for trips are:
1) Tokyo
2) New York (east coast etc)
3) Europe (specifically Germany/UK)

I'm not sure going to Tokyo makes any sense though.  I would kind of rather go during baseball season, honestly, and it's not like there's a lot for me to do around new year's since the entire country is also off and having family celebrations and all that stuff, so a lot of the things I'd usually do to waste time aren't an option.  I think I could still have a pretty good time and even work from the Google Tokyo office a little maybe, but in reality I think I need to actually figure out my Japan travel plans for next year.

New York could be fun, that's where I was for New Year's last year.  There's a ton of stuff to do and things to eat and friends to hang out with, and again, there's a Google office there too so I could work remotely a few days hopefully.  I could theoretically also couple that with a trip elsewhere on the east coast like DC or Philly and actually visit people who are related to me.  And Carl is going to be in the US and in NYC around that time so I could hang out with him (which is part of why it doesn't make sense to go to Tokyo, or even Seattle, which I thought about a bit too)

Europe is intriguing though because I've never been there, and I have a friend in Germany who's willing to let me crash with him, and I have friends in the UK who are willing to let me crash with them, and unlike the other two options, I actually directly work with people in the Google London office (infact I'm on the early bus to work right now so I can have a meeting with them) so it'd probably be the easiest remote office to sell to my manager as "hey, can I go work remotely for a few days there?"

I really don't know.  I mean, I could also just stay in California for the entirety of the holiday season but that also seems pretty boring.  I have to admit that I'm really unlikely to go to Europe unless I do it at one of these baseball offseason times anyway or I get sent for work (although the latter is not that entirely unlikely come to think of it).  Shrug, I figure I should spend the next week or two thinking about it and looking at numbers and talk to some people and make some decisions.

alhambra

Nov. 6th, 2013 11:13 pm
You know, this week has generally been kind of awesome even if a little stressful and i've been super-tired.  Yesterday I ran into Pat Riley while walking across campus; I hadn't seen him since forever ago at CMU! And the funny part is that it was on my way back from CMU lunch anyway.  Also turns out that one of the CMU guys from the lunch works on my floor.

Today I had awesome Japanese food for lunch at the cafe downstairs from me -- yaki-udon and tofu and tekkamaki and stuff like that.  I ate way too much but it was totally worth it.  And in the evening was board game club, but first dkitchin invited me to come downstairs to a Research happy hour where I got to see cool demos of stuff and then we went to get dinner and then game club, where we played Alhambra with another David there.  It really is cool how I get to catch up with my CMU friends.  Last week, actually, while Jay (Pujara) was in town, we had lunch with Patrick and Greg, and then a day later I had lunch with my former Amazon officemates Guido and Hemant... the latter of whom it turns out works next to Greg.  What a weird coincidence.

Basically, I guess the point is, I'm really exhausted -- especially with spending 3 hours a day on shuttle buses and whatnot -- and I've been off caffeine for about two weeks now -- but mostly things are pretty good, I'd say.

I've been trying to sleeve my 7 Wonders cards so I can bring them to work, but it turns out that the specific sleeves for them are SLIGHTLY too tight.  Very annoying.  Everything online suggests that the sleeves are just "snug", but I'm not sure I buy it.
Achievement unlocked: went to secret cafe on campus for lunch with my officemates.  One guy joked that "Larry and Sergey sometimes eat here" on the way... and then Larry got in line behind him.

BTW, on the bus to work this morning I was debating the idea of trying to resurrect my old Livejournal habits for a bit and see how it goes.  I kind of miss having LJ entries about everything instead of things scattered across FB, G+, twitter, etc.

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