Sebastian Kirsch: Blog

Sunday, 11 February 2007

Back in the United States of Europe

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 19:05

After four months of travel and excitement, I arrived back in Dublin last Thursday. Now begins the boring part: Finding an apartment, moving my stuff, getting settled in, finding friends, …

In any case, it will be good to have my stuff back and not live out of two suitcases anymore. On the other hand – I did not really need all that stuff for four months.

Monday, 08 January 2007

Leland Stanford Jr. University

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 10:40

The story of Leland Stanford Jr. University, one of the foremost research universities in the world, is actually a rather sad one. Leland Stanford Sr. was a railroad tycoon and governor of California on the 19th century. His wife was childless until the age of 39, when their first and only son, Leland Stanford Jr. was born. Leland Jr. died of typhoid fever at the age of 16, and since it was unlikely that his wife would bear him another heir at the age of 55, Leland Sr. decided to use his fortune to found a university – named after his son, “Leland Stanford Jr. University", as a permament memorial.

And come to think of it, had Leland Jr. lived, he would now probably be a footnote in history. But by having Stanford University named after him, he became immortal.

I have been to the Stanford a couple of times now, both in daytime and at night, and took hundreds of pictures. Besides being a top-notch research university, the Stanford Campus also has a huge outdoor sculpture collection, in particular a unique Papua-New Guinea sculpture garden. The Cantor Museum features the largest collection of Rodin sculptures outside Paris – and it is right on campus, and free of charge.

Have a look at my galleries of Stanford during the day and Stanford at night!

Monday, 04 December 2006

Mountain lions, oh my!

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 10:08

After seeing this warning sign at Rancho San Antonio, I’d be wary of wandering around there in the dark:



Anyway, this is kind of a post without a purpose. I got my new camera on Friday, it’s a Pentax K100D, so I finally have an SLR again. (My previous camera was a Minolta X-700, which served me well for a number of years, but became too cumbersome in the end – it was film, no automatic drive (I had an external drive), no auto-focus, no built-in flash, … basically, everything you expect from a modern camera was missing. Apart from that it was great: very light, very small body for an SLR, bright viewfinder, and very reliable. Taught me lots of stuff about photography.)

So … I wanted to take the camera out and shoot some photos this weekend, but this was prevented by my other evening activities. (Note to self: Don’t expect to be able to take pictures in daylight if you went to sleep at 5am the previous night.) But since I wanted to know how the camera would fare in low-light situations, I took it out anyway to take some pictures at dusk. (My digital compact was notoriously shitty in this kind of lighting, and I’m very much a fan of available-light photography.)

A few pictures these outings are in my MTV gallery.

Work hard, play hard

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 09:01

I can proudly attest that I am indeed doing my best to live up to the second part of this maxim.

On friday, I went to the company’s holiday party – taking place in a warehouse in the port of San Francisco. There were several different areas, some with live music, some with DJs, as well as plenty of food and booze. I am still amazed at the scale of this party – though if you want to accomodate several thousand employees in Mountain View, as well as their dates/spouses, nothing less would have done. The only downside: The party closed down at 12am, after only four hours. I’d have expected something like this to go on until the wee hours of the morning. After all, isn’t the purpose of a holiday party to get utterly wasted, get to know sides of your coworkers that you would never have expected, and have deep philosophical discussions with your team leader/manager/VP/CEO? (NB: A friend of mine in Saarbrücken was exceptionally good at this. At every university event, he had the uncanny ability to get at least one of the professors or other higher-ups completely drunk, hold long and deep discussions with them and become their best buddy.)

But fortunately, some people had the foresight to organize an afterparty, which took place at a club in downtown SF, and kept us going until about 3am. And since I didn’t have to drive, I could even imbibe alcohol with impunity. Thanks to Lorenzo, our driver!

On saturday, it predictably took me quite a while to get out of bed, but the next evening’s activities were already afoot: I went to SF with a friend to watch Shortbus at the Lumière Theatre. Definitely a movie worth watching. It was released unrated in the US, and if it had not, this could possibly have been the ratings board’s shortest job ever: Yes, there is lots of sex in this movie, but I don’t feel that it is gratuitous. The whole movie is about sex, and the rôle of sex in modern relationships. It has some very sweet scenes, and amazingly funny at times. (Quote from the movie: “Was that the first time someone sang the Star Spangled Banner into your ass?” – “No.") (Check out Jay Brannan’s music as well.)

This was followed up by a trip to the usual place. Well, not quite the usual place: This time, it was The Bar instead of The Café. What makes people choose so completely ungoogleable names for places? We ran into some friends from the previous weekends, and were quickly introduced to other people around. I was wearing a Google t-shirt (when everyone around you wears them all the time, you kinda forget …) and it turned out that there were at least five people from Google in the bar! Talk about a small world…

After stopping by one of our new-found friends’ place for further drinks, we finally made it home by about 5am. Oh, and since I was the designated driver, I didn’t have any alcohol that evening – but I increasingly find that it doesn’t matter. As long as there’s good music and nice people, I don’t need alcohol to have fun.

Tuesday, 28 November 2006

Redwoods!

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 10:07

California is – among other things, of course – famous for its redwoods, the tallest trees in the worlds. There is one redwoods park, the Portola Redwoods State Park, about an hour’s drive from Mountain View.

I decided to go there for some light hiking on Saturday. Considering that I did not leave Moutain View before 11:30, and thus had only about four hours of sunlight left when I arrived, it was more like an extended stroll through the woods – but let’s call it a hike for argument’s sake.

Portola State Park can be reached via a very narrow and winding road, which begins right outside Palo Alto. In fact, it is so small and winding that all other drivers on the road got out of my way and let me pass after I followed them for a few minutes – perhaps because I am such an assertive European driver? I don’t know. Perhaps it helps that I practically grew up on this kind of road.

Descending the road to the park, I had my first encounter with the local wildlife: A deer standing in the middle of the road! I was on the right way. In the park itself, I was informed that all the foot bridges over the Pescadero Creek had been pulled for the season. Crossing the creek meant taking off one’s shoes and wading through – I immediately felt like a real adventurer.

Fortunately enough, I found another group to tag along with – we were the only ones on the trails at this time of the year. I completed a 1 1/2 hour loop with them, and then went off on my own for another two hours. We saw another deer and some more lowly examples of the local wildlife – banana slugs.

And since it was not completely dark when I finished, I decided to drive over to the ocean and finally see the pacific. This meant another 45 minute drive, but I was in time to catch the sunset.

Photos from my trip are in my Portola Redwoods gallery. And once my new camera arrives, I promise better pictures.

Friday, 24 November 2006

Had a thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 13:29

Somehow, I always have to think of Alice’s Restaurant whenever the words “thanksgiving dinner” come up. “Had a thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat, went to sleep and didn’t get up until the next morning, when we got a phone call from officer Obie.”

I had a thanksgiving dinner that couldn’t be beat – Maria and Cheryl, our very gracious hostesses, took me and two fellow lost children in and plied us with formidable sushi, teriyaki, spinach salad, and topped it all off with a wonderful tres leches cake. It was all a thanksgiving dinner – or any holiday dinner – should be: We completely stuffed ourselves (even if it wasn’t turkey), were completely relaxed, had great conversation, great stories and an overall wonderful time. I can’t give enough thanks for this random act of kindness by two complete strangers.

Afterwards, the three of us set off for another night out in Castro, touring a few bars before ending up at The Café again. The Café was celebrating its ten year anniversary – with a latin night. Perfect. I just love latin music. If there’s one thing that really gets me going, it’s latin. Actually, us whitebread boys were definitely in the minority this evening. But the fact that people tried to chat me up in Spanish tells that I can’t have looked too out of place there.

So, needless to say, a grand old time was had by all. We’re doing it again in two weeks – and then we’re taking Maria and Cheryl with us.

And I hope I won’t get a phone call tomorrow morning.

Monday, 20 November 2006

Everything is bigger …

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 04:16

Sometimes it’s the small things you notice.

Europe USA
toothpaste 50ml 170ml
shampoo 200ml 400ml
body wash 250ml 354ml
my car family car compact car

Monday, 13 November 2006

Mt. View, week 1

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 10:12

I have been in the US for a week now – time for a short status report.

Work-wise, the week has been rather uneventful. Lots of classes and talks to attend, and too little time in between to get started with my projects. I have gotten into the (bad?) habit of turning up at work at about nine in the morning, have breakfast while sitting outside in the sun (as long as it is still warm enough to do that) and checking my emails and my calendar – and combined with having lunch at the company and staying for dinner this means that I usually get home between eight and nine. I have not been very social either for the whole week, but I mainly attribute this to a) working too long, b) having to drive from the company back home, and c) there being no bars within walking distance. (The closest bars are about 1.5 miles away.)

On Saturday, I went to San Francisco for a first look. I did what I usually do when I come to a new city: I skip all the tourist attractions and just wander around more or less aimlessly. In this case, my itinerary looked like this; I must have covered about 10km on that day:

Map of SF, with itinerary

I parked my car near the freeway entrance on Market St, then walked up Market St, down 8th St, back up again, and further towards downtown. In downtown, I stopped for a coffee and a croissant at a nice little crêpe place, before wandering through Macy’s and shopping a little. (Short rant: I am unable to find good underwear at the moment. My favourite is Burlington, which proves unable to find. I bought some Polo trunks at Macy’s, but as far as comfort is concerned, Burlington still winds hands down. End rant.)

I then climbed the hill to Japantown, where I spent some time browsing the shops, buying a couple of cards, a CD I’d been looking for for years (Blue Submarine OST Part 1, by The Thrill), and a maneki neko. The origami book selection at Kinokuniya is very impressive, and I had to restrain myself from spending an inordinate amount of money on books that I will probably not use. And anyway – I’m staying here for another three months, SF is just 45 minutes away, and I can always go there again. I did miss the most interesting shop – Paper Tree, the origami shop. I didn’t notice them until after their closing time, since they are tucked away in street off the main mall.

Peace Plaza

In the evening, I went to Castro to go clubbing with a friend. Both of us have not been in the area for long (him for two weeks, me for one week), so the objective was to find out what there is on Castro for further expeditions. We started with Badlands, which was rather too stereotypically gay, hot and crowded for our tastes. We dropped into the Midnight Sun before going to The Café, where we stayed for the rest of the night (until closing time at 2am). A nice thing about the Café – I guess – is its diverse clientele: It has gays, lesbians, straight people, guys dancing with guys, guys dancing with girls, girls dancing with girls – and nobody seems to care.

Monday, 06 November 2006

Mountain View, CA

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 09:02

Yesterday, I arrived in Mountain View, CA, for my training on board the mothership. I got up at four in the morning to catch my plane, flying via London Heathrow to San Francisco International airport, arriving at 13:30 – pacific time. By the time I arrived at my hotel in Mountain View, I had already been up for about 20 hours, having slept about four hours the night before.

Of course, I couldn’t resist trying out the hotel’s internet connection. When I remarked on IRC that I was staying on El Camino Real, an occasional chat friend piped up, saying “Oh, so you’re just down the road from me” – it turned out that he had just moved from Cambridge (England, not Massachusetts) to Palo Alto for his post-doc at Stanford a week earlier!

So we arranged to have dinner on University Ave in Palo Alto later that evening (Kan Zeman; I had the manssaf, a lamb shank on rice and bread, which was very good.) And afterwards, well, the evening was still young, so we went to San Francisco for a quick walk through Castro and a drink. I finally went to bed at about 12:30, having successfully avoided going to bed early and thereby increasing my jet lag. How’s that for the first day in the US – meeting a nice guy from IRC for the first time, have a nice dinner and then even see a first glimpse of San Francisco? I think it’s pretty damn great.

I got up at about nine this morning, and after breakfast, some phone calls and extended lallygagging, I finally hit the road, going to Palo Alto for some walking around, (window) shopping, a coffee etc. I parked my car on California Ave, which was the first daft idea of the day: I thought I’d just walk over to University Ave once I’d seen California Ave. What looked like a short distance on the map took me about 50 minutes. I decided to take the CalTrain on the way back.

The second daft idea of the day was deciding on a lark to drive over to Pescadero to seet the sunset over the pacific ocean. Now, there is a direct road down to Pescadero (Page Mills Road), and the distance is about 35km, which would have been doable, even though the sun was already sinking. The problem was that this road is even more windy than it looks on the map – it’s very narrow, has lots of hairpin curves, and it’s hard to do even 20mph on it. After about 40 minutes on the road, I got my first clear view west, decided that all those clouds into which the sun was slowly sinking must be where the pacific ocean should be – and decided that it probably wouldn’t be worth it to go any further. I snapped a few pictures of the sunset and made my way back, stopping a few times to take further pics of the lights of the peninsula with a magnificent full moon above them.

Sunset over ... presumably the pacific, but it's hard to tell with all those clouds.

The silicon valley in moon- and artificial light.

Another shot of the valley in moonlight.

Tuesday, 24 October 2006

Oktoberfest in Dublin

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 00:36

The Porterhouse just celebrated their very own Oktoberfest, and for a German recently arrived in Dublin, this is an interesting take on the subject. They distribute a “beer pass” at the the pub which is wrong on just so many levels:

[beer pass]

  1. Oktoberfest is celebrated in September, not in October, and has been for many, many years.
  2. Kolsch has about as much to do with Oktoberfest as … two things that have very little to do with each other. Kolsch is drunk in Rhineland, Oktoberfest takes place in Bavaria. On, and, by the way, it’s written “Kölsch".
  3. Frankfurter, Sauerkraut and bread are not a specialty of Cologne. Try Halver Hahn next time, or Himmel unn Ääd. (It’s not a specialty of Bavaria either.)
  4. You don’t drink Kölsch from pint glasses. Kölsch is served in 0.2l glasses.
  5. And most importantly, if you brew it locally, it is not Kölsch. Kölsch is only brewed in breweries that have aline of sight with the dome of Cologne. Do you see the dome from the top of the Porterhouse? No? Then it’s not Kölsch. (Which is, by the way, a protected designation of origin. So “Porterhouse Kölsch” is not only wrong, it’s also illegal.
  6. You wouldn’t want to be drinking Eau de Cologne either. Even though it does have a very high alcohol content (70-90%), the 2-5% essential oils would spoil the taste. And it’s not brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot.

This is how they describe their “Kolsch":

[kolsch]

Friday, 06 October 2006

In Dublin!

Filed under: — Sebastian Kirsch @ 12:04

I arrived in Dublin yesterday at noon. Finally.

I had to pay 70€ for surplus baggage (sorry, I’m going to have to live from my baggage for about five months, I need those 40kg!), the flight was delayed by one hour (it was 30 minutes late coming in, which added up to one hour in the end), it took us about an hour to get from the airport to the hotel (gridlock, which is normal for Dublin centre), and I found out that I forgot my toothbrush and a sports jacket at the last hotel (oh well, I can buy a new toothbrush, and they can send me the jacket by mail.)

But I have arrived.

The hotel is in Pembroke Road (not to be confused with Pembroke Row, Lane, Avenue, Cottages, Gardens, Place, or Terrace), in a Georgian house. And it even has free wifi. And little Bodum french presses for coffee in the morning – I was afraid that I wouldn’t get good coffee in Ireland, and even brought my own Moka Express, but the coffee here in the hotel is great.

Yesterday afternoon was spent walking around, through Baggot Street to St. Stephen’s Green and beyond, just to get a feel for the area and for the distances. I’m going to be walking around a lot, since I have neither car nor bicycle (and I haven’t figured out Dublin public transport yet). At about six in the evening, I returned to the hotel to have a short nap, which turned into a 14-hour sleep – I guess the last few days took their toll; I didn’t sleep more than four hours per night, and was busy all day. But now I’m rested and ready to tackle a new day.


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