Tags: americanaugust



August in America, day twenty-six

My last day in Chicago was short and uneventful. After a late check-out from the hotel, Jessica and I wandered down to Intelligentsia, had some coffee, wandered off for some lunch, wandered back to Intelligentsia for even more coffee, before wandering back to the hotel to kill time before leaving.

Brad was leaving around the same time so we shared a ride out to the airport, which went pretty smoothly considering Chicago’s infamous traffic. We made it to O’Hare in plenty of time, breezed through security and hung out in the lounge until our flight was ready for boarding.

Thus endeth my August in America.

I’m pleased that I was able to live out of a medium-sized suitcase for such an extended period.

I’m pleased that I didn’t use a byte of data on my phone for the whole trip—the trick with the offline maps helped a lot.

I’m pleased that I was able to keep my promise to myself to document the trip by writing a journal entry every day I was in America …well, except for this one, which I’m writing from my home in Brighton. But hey, 25 out of 26 ain’t bad.

August in America, day twenty-five

Today was the second day of An Event Apart Chicago and I kicked things off with my talk The Long Web. But this time I introduced a new variable into the mix—I played a bit of mandolin.

A Man and His Music: Jeremy Keith at An Event Apart Chicago 2013

It was relevant …honest. I was talking about the redesign and relaunch of The Session, which involved giving a bit of background on traditional Irish music, so it seemed appropriate to demonstrate with a hornpipe. I screwed it up a little bit, but people didn’t seem to mind.

Jeremy Keith at An Event Apart Chicago 2013

Once I was done with my talk, I was able to relax and enjoy an excellent presentation by Adrian on interface details; lots of great food for thought in there.

Once the day was done, myself, Jessica, Jason, Ethan, Brad, Kristina, and Karen made our way to The Purple Pig, where we proceeded to eat all the food. Excellent food and excellent company; a good way to spend my last night in Chicago …and indeed, the United States.

Tomorrow I begin the journey home.

August in America, day twenty-four

Today was the opening day of An Event Apart Chicago so I spent the whole day at the back of the room absorbing the knowledge bombs being dropped.

As usual, the quality of the talks was excellent, and quite a few of them set me up nicely for my talk tomorrow. I’ll be reiterating a lot of what Ethan said about progressive enhancement—no surprise there.

I’m on first thing tomorrow. That’s the hangover slot (thanks for booze, Media Temple). I’m kind of nervous about the talk. Now that I’ve given it once already—at An Event Apart DC earlier this month—I shouldn’t be worried, but I’m going to attempt something a bit new tomorrow. If it doesn’t work, I’ll be left with egg on my face.

Wish me luck.

August in America, day twenty-three

Powers Of Ten is a remarkable short film created by Charles and Ray Eames in 1968. It deals with scale, going out to the distance of our galactic neighbourhood and down to the Planck measurement.

It all begins in a park in Chicago.

Ever since first seeing the film I thought it would be fun to find the exact spot around which the universe is explored by the Eameses. I also thought I probably wasn’t the first geek to think that. But my preliminary googling didn’t turn up any prior art. So I put the call out on Twitter:

Within minutes, Matthew came through for me:

Although, as Dan pointed out, that opening shot was actually filmed in LA:

The actual live action of the picnic scene was filmed in Los Angeles, where Charles and Ray could oversee all aspects of production for the critical opening moments.

Nonetheless, armed with latitude and longitude coordinates, Jessica and I set out to find the one metre square patch of Chicago that’s used as the starting point for the film. We began the trek from our riverside hotel, stopping for an Intelligentsia coffee along the way, passing by the bean to take obligatory mirror shots, and through Millenium Park down to the Field Museum and the Schedd Aquarium, the perfect spot to stop for a Chicago-style hot dog.

With a bit more walking, we made it to the lat/lon coordinates—a more arboreal location now than it was back when Powers Of Ten was filmed. I did what any self-respecting nerd in my situation would do: I made a new spot on Foursquare.

Mission accomplished. After that, we hopped on a water taxi back up to Navy Pier. This short boat ride made Jessica inordinately happy. It certainly was a lovely day to be out on the water. ‘Though I had to keep reminding myself that we were on a lake, not an ocean.

When we got back to our hotel, we asked at reception if there might be a riverside view that we could move to. There was and we did. Now when we look out of our hotel window, we can see the stunning architecture of downtown Chicago in all its glory.

August in America, day twenty-two

I’m back from a lovely evening out with Jared and Jessica, unwinding in my Chicago hotel room after a day of travel.

It began with a journey on the BART to San Francisco airport. Figuring out how to operate the BART ticket machines is always an interesting exercise in bizarro world interface design. But figure it out we did, and Jessica and I made it to the airport in plenty of time …which is just as well, because it took the TSA quite a while to find someone to give me my pat-down when I opted out of using the millimetre wave scanner.

The four hour Virgin America flight to Chicago passed without incident. We had bulkhead seats which meant we could stretch our legs out a little bit more. We ate some snacks. We watched some bad comedies: Identity Thief and The Hangover Part III.

When we arrived in Chicago, there was a car waiting to take us to our hotel: one of the excellent perks provided to speakers at An Event Apart. In mere hours, we made it through rush-hour Chicago traffic to the Westin hotel.

When we were checking in, there was a notice to guests that things might get a little noisy in the early hours of Sunday night and Monday morning. They’re planning to do some helicopter-shot filming for two movies currently in production: Michael Bay’s Transformers 4 and the Wachowski siblings’ Jupiter Ascending. Guests are requested to keep their windows shut.

August in America, day twenty-one

I played truant from UX Week this morning to meet up with Mike for a coffee and a chat at Cafe Vega. We were turfed out when the bearded, baseball-capped, Draplinesque barista announced he had to shut the doors because he needed to “run out for some milk.” So we went around the corner to the Code For America office. The place had a layout similar to what we’ve got planned for the new Clearleft building so I immediately starting documenting it with pictures (although it probably looked like I was just trying to sneakily take pictures of Tim O’Reilly).

Office space Office space

After catching up with Mike, I rendezvoused with Jessica back at the hotel and we headed out for lunch at Mel’s diner. The espresso milk shakes there are a must-have on any San Francisco trip I make.

Espresso shakes

Then it was a race against time to try to get to the Mission Bay Conference Center to catch Sophia’s talk at UX Week. She ran the gist of the talk by me yesterday and it sounded great. Alas, I missed the first half of it, but what I caught was reaffirming much of what I was hammering home in my workshops yesterday.

UX Week wrapped up with the inimitable Ze Frank. As I said to Peter afterwards, he’s always reliable but never predictable.

Having said my goodbyes and my thanks to the lovely UX Week people, I met up with Jessica again for a feast of sushi at Hana Zen, right by the hotel. That’s three nights in a row that we’ve had really good asian cuisine downtown: Thai, Chinese, and Japanese.

We finished the evening in good company at the home of young Master Ben, observing the ritual of games night, sipping beers, and resisting the temptation of the cheese.

Tomorrow we depart for Chicago. Farewell, San Francisco; lovely to see you again, as always.

August in America, day twenty

As predicted, today’s schedule of two back-to-back half-day workshops at UX Week was indeed quite exhausting. But it was also very rewarding.

Every time I run a workshop, I always end up learning something from the experience and today was no exception. The attendees were a bright bunch with lots of great questions and discussion points.

Workshopping Workshopping Workshopping Workshopping Workshopping Workshopping

Once the workshops were done, I felt pretty exhausted. Jessica and I had a quiet night sampling the culinary delights of M.Y. China conveniently located just across the street from our hotel so I could collapse into bed at the end of the day.

August in America, day nineteen

Tomorrow I’m going to be spending all day teaching workshops at UX Week: two back-to-back half-day workshops on Responsive UX. So today I took it easy in preparation for what will probably be a knackering day tomorrow.

Jessica and I moved from Tantek’s place to a downtown hotel near Union Square; like I said, despite the fact that UX Week goes on for four days, they only provide speaker accommodation for three, guaranteeing that speakers won’t be around for the whole event. Very odd.

We checked into the hotel, grabbed some sandwiches and sat out in Yerba Buena park, soaking up some sun. It was a bright blue clear day in San Francisco. After that strenuous activity, we went for a coffee and strolled along Embarcadero, finishing the day with some excellent Thai food …just a harrowing walk through the Tenderloin away.

Now I’m going to fret over my workshop material and have a restless night of stress dreams. Wish me luck!

August in America, day eighteen

UX Week kicked off today. It’s a four-day event: one day of talks, followed by two days of workshops, followed by another day of talks. I’ll be spending all of the third day doing workshops back-to-back.

Bizarrely, even though it’s a four-day event, they only offer speakers three nights of accommodation. Seems odd to me: I would’ve thought they’d want us to stick around for the whole thing.

So, as I don’t get my hotel room until tomorrow, today I had to make my way from Tantek’s place in the Haight all the way over to the Mission Bay Conference Center—a fairly long MUNI ride. Alas, that meant I missed Steven Johnson’s opening talk. Curses!

Fortunately I did make it time for Ian Bogost’s talk, which was excellent.

In the afternoon, I walked over to Four Barrel, the excellent coffee shop that was celebrating its fifth birthday. They had a balloons, a photo both, a petting zoo, games, and best of all, free coffee. Tom popped by and we had a lovely time chatting in the sun (and drinking free coffee).

Seeing as I was in the Mission anyway, it would’ve been crazy not to have a mission burrito, so a trip to Papalote quickly followed. Best of all, Erin popped by. Then, as we were heading home via Dolores Park, we met up with Ted. Just like I hoped!

August in America, day seventeen

Today began bright and early with a delicious breakfast at Zazie. Every other time I’ve been to that place, I’ve had to wait in line for ages because on the weekends, it’s a ridiculously popular spot in Cole Valley. Today, being a Monday, there was no wait at all.

But most of today revolved around a later meal. Cindy and Matt reserved a table at Quince, a swanky restaurant that I knew would be good from seeing Larry’s pictures. The problem was I needed a suitably swanky outfit.

Now, I began this American trip with a decent enough ensemble; my Hiut jeans and a matching typically-flowery shirt. But over the course of my travels, those jeans developed a split, then a hole, then a rip. So I picked up a pair of black trousers when I was in San Diego. That’s all well and good, but my flowery shirt is dark blue …dark blue and black really don’t match. So I needed to find a nice shirt, one that would work with a pair of black trousers, and I needed to find them as soon as possible.

That’s why Jessica and I spent most of the afternoon going up and down Haight Street, popping into every vintage or thrift store we came across. In one of those stores, I found a Ben Sherman shirt. Amazingly, it fit me. Even more amazingly, it was just twelve dollars. Bargain!

I feel like there should be alternative fashion shows, where the models sashay down the catwalk and—upon reaching the end—stop and say, “See this shirt? Twelve bucks! Bargain!”

With my shirt mission fulfilled, I shined my shoes, scrubbed up and headed out with Jessica to rendezvous with Cindy and Matt for an unforgettable evening of excellent food and wine.

August in America, day sixteen

Today was mostly a travel day. The flight from San Diego to San Francisco is a short hop, but when that flight is delayed by two hours, you’re going to spend far longer than intended within the confines of an airport. That’s what happened to me and Jessica today.

Still, it’s not a bad airport as airports go. And as airports go, it went.

With the delayed departure, the flight itself, and then the taxi ride in from the airport, by the time we finally made it to Tantek’s place it was late afternoon. But we were still made it in time for our dinner date with Cindy and Matt, and Daniel and Sharon.

We uber-ed over to Daniel and Sharon’s place (“to uber” is a perfectly cromulent verb in this town). For once, it was a bright, clear day in San Francisco and we were treated to the gorgeous view of the city laid out below us as we went from the Haight to Bernal Heights.

August in America, day fifteen

Being a beachy surfer kind of place, it made sense that we spent our last day in San Diego hanging out by the beach. We went to La Jolla. We watched people swim, snorkel, and paddle-board. In amongst the human activity, we also saw the occasional seal pop its head out of the water.

It was another beautiful day in San Diego. It was also my last day in San Diego: tomorrow I head north to San Francisco.

I was all set for another flight until disastrously my Kindle gave up the ghost. The e-ink display is b0rked, permanently showing half of Jane Austen and half of a New Aesthetic glitch. So on the way to dinner at the Stone Brewery this evening, we stopped off at a Best Buy so I could slap down some money to buy a bog-standard non-touch, non-white Kindle.

Imagine my disgust when I get it home, charged it up, connected it to a WiFi network, registered it, and discovered that it comes encumbered with advertising that can’t be switched off (the Amazon instructions for unsubscribing from these “special offers”—by paying to do so—don’t work if your device is registered with a UK Amazon account).

A little bit of Googling revealed that the advertising infestation resides in a hidden folder named /system/.assets. If you replace this folder with an empty file (and keep WiFi switched off by having your Kindle in airplane mode), then the advertising is cast out.

So connect your Kindle—that you bought, with your money—to your Mac, open up the Terminal and type:

cd /Volumes/Kindle/system
rm -r .assets
touch .assets

Now I can continue to read The Shining Girls in peace on my flight to San Francisco tomorrow.

August in America, day fourteen

I remember the first time I was in San Diego in 2008, a bunch of us were hanging out at the Lamplighter, a dive bar that was the scene of my first traumatic karaoke experience. Ted and Erin were extolling the virtues of San Diego. They described it as having all the good aspects of Los Angeles but without the craziness. True enough, San Diego is a pretty laid back place.

Today was a laid back kinda day. Jessica, Jeb and I were in full tourist mode, wandering around the seafront and revisiting the USS Midway. What can I say? I like airplanes. And ships.

We ended the day at a pizza place that I’m pretty sure I’ve been to before. That would’ve been the last time I was in San Diego, which was Halloween 2010. Once again, I met up with Ted and Erin except that this time they were in fancy dress; Scott Pilgrim fancy dress to be precise. Erin cut an impressive figure as Ramona, while Ted came as “Mark Pilgrim as Scott Pilgrim” …possibly the meta-geekiest thing ever.

That was before Ted and Erin up sticks and moved to San Francisco. Coincidentally, San Francisco will be the next stop on my trip so here’s hoping I see them there.

August in America, day thirteen

I’ve been to San Diego twice before. The first time was in 2008 for one of Jared’s conferences that took place on Coronado. The second time was two years later for An Event Apart in 2010. That time I was staying downtime.

This time I’m staying with Jeb in Ocean Beach. I like it here. It’s got a very laid-back feel. People walk down the street with surfboards under their arms. Or else they skate down the street. Probably on their way to get fish tacos. Exceptionally good fish tacos.

Beach scene

As the name suggests, there is a beach here. More importantly, there is a dog beach. A dog beach! A beach where dogs of all shapes and sizes can run free, cavort in the surf and sniff one another’s butts.

I like dog-watching and everyone here has a dog. I particularly like hanging out with these two mutts: Lola and Mesa.

Jeb and Lola Mesa

Like almost everywhere in San Diego, Ocean Beach lies under a flight path—a natural consequence of having your airport right downtown. Jeb told us about “The OB Pause”. That’s when you’re in the middle of a conversation and you pause…


…and then continue right where you left off once the jet has left your airspace.

August in America, day twelve

Today was a travel day, but it was a short travel day: the flight from Tucson to San Diego takes just an hour. It took longer to make the drive up from Sierra Vista to Tucson airport.

And what a lovely little airport it is. When we showed up, we were literally the only people checking in and the only people going through security. After security is a calm oasis, free of the distracting TV screens that plague most other airports. Also, it has free WiFi, which was most welcome. I’m relying on WiFi, not 3G, to go online on this trip.

I’ve got my iPhone with me but I didn’t do anything to guarantee myself a good data plan while I’m here in the States. Honestly, it’s not that hard to not always be connected to the internet. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:

  1. To avoid accidentally using data and getting charged through the nose for it, you can go into the settings of your iPhone and under General -> Cellular, you can switch “Cellular Data” to “off”. Like it says, “Turn off cellular data to restrict all data to Wi-Fi, including email, web browsing, and push notifications.”
  2. If you do that, and you normally use iMessage, make sure to switch iMessage off. Otherwise if someone with an iPhone in the States sends you an SMS, you won’t get it until the next time you connect to a WiFi network. I learned this the hard way: it happened to me twice on this trip before I realised what was going on.
  3. I use Google Maps rather than Apple Maps. It turns out you can get offline maps on iOS (something that’s been available on Android for quite some time). Open the Google Maps app while you’re still connected to a WiFi network; navigate so that the area you want to save is on the screen; type “ok maps” into the search bar; now that map is saved and zoomable for offline browsing.

August in America, day eleven

Sierra Vista is located just a few miles to north of Mexico. If you’re driving up to Benson or Tucson, you can expect to be stopped by the border police. Please have your papers ready for inspection.

Border patrol check point, 1 mile

Most days, a tethered unmanned blimp hovers over the mountains to the south of Sierra Vista. On some nights, you can see the light of a drone traversing the air above the border.

Sierra Vista is also home to an army base, hence the occasional helicopters and aircraft.

Tomorrow we leave for San Diego, right next to the border with Tijuana.

August in America, day ten

Today was another sunny day in Arizona.

I saw a snake; it had a rattle. I admired prickly pear cacti, and when I picked up a prickly pear that had fallen to the ground, I discovered exactly why it’s called a prickly pear.

Prickly pear cactus

But I spent much of this sunny Arizona day in the dark.

We went to Kartchner Caverns, a series of limestone caves fifty mega-years old. It was quite beautiful.

The caverns might be ancient, but the state park is relatively young. The caves were first discovered in 1974. The story of what happened next is quite fascinating. The cavers who discovered the caverns teamed up with the landowner to negotiate with the State about creating a publicly-accessible state park (negotiations that had to happen in secret so that the caverns wouldn’t be despoiled if word got out).

They had come to the conclusion that the best chance of preserving the caverns was not to keep them secret, but to make them public under appropriate stewardship. It reminded me of the mantra of the Internet Archive:

Access drives preservation.

August in America, day nine

Today was a day of rest. And in Arizona, that means lounging in or near the swimming pool.

Thanks to recently-installed solar panels on the roof, the water was nice and warm. Jessica did laps of the pool, while I splashed around spasmodically. Y’see, I can’t actually swim. Yes, I grew up by the sea, but you have to understand; that sea was bloody freezing.

So now I’m trying to figure out this whole swimming thing from first principles, but I’m not sure my brain has enough plasticity left to grasp the coordination involved. Still, it’s fun to attempt to swim, no matter how quixotic the goal.

It’s monsoon season in southern Arizona right now, meaning it’s almost certain to rain sometime in the afternoon. That’s why we got our swimming activities done early. Sure enough, thunder clouds started rolling in, but there wasn’t much rain in the end.

Clouds Clouds at sunset

Fortunately the clouds had mostly dissipated by the time the sun went down, so a few hours later, when we went outside to look up and search the starry sky for the Perseids, we got to see a few pieces of Swift-Tuttle streaking across the firmament.

August in America, day eight

Today was a travel day. It was time to leave our most excellent hosts in Philadelphia and make our way to Jessica’s parents in Sierra Vista, Arizona.

I spent most of the travel time with my headphones on, listening to music and reading on my Kindle. I finished Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312, a thoroughly enjoyable—if not exactly tightly-plotted—romp around the solar system, and started in on Lauren’s latest, The Shining Girls. It’s a real page-turner. Or, in the case of the Kindle, a real button-pusher.

For take-off and landing, headphones and Kindles have to be stowed so I always make sure I’ve got a good ol’ dead-tree tome with me on any plane journey. On this occasion I started into a copy Rainbows End by Vernor Vinge that I picked up at a second-hand bookstore in Alexandria earlier this week.

There was no direct way to get from Philadelphia to Tucson, the nearest airport to Sierra Vista. Layovers were inevitable. We flew with Delta, which meant that our layover would be at their hub in Atlanta.

The flight from Philly to Atlanta was pretty straightforward, but we could see storm clouds brewing. After a stopover in Atlanta for a couple of hours, we continued on to Tucson, by which time the storm clouds were brewed and angry.


As we chased the sunset, we flew over a landscape of explosions in the sky. Dark cloudscapes erupted with light every minute or so. It looked like a bombardment of multiple timezones. At one point, Jessica saw a shooting star. It was as if the Perseids were MIRVing to deliver angry payloads of light flashes while we flew unscathed above it all.

Explosions in the sky

August in America, day seven

Today was another day of excellent perambulations around Philadelphia. This time Jessica and I went to the Italian market featured so heavily in Rocky. Then we wandered up to Reading Terminal Market and took in the tastes and smells. Who knew the Amish made such good doughnuts?

But the main event of this day, this week, and indeed, this month, was the PPC: Philly Pizza Club. This involves the consumption of pizza and many varieties of beer.

Beer 1: Oberon Summer Ale Beer 2: Kona Fire Rock Pale Ale Beer 3: Flying Fish Red Fish Beer 4: Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA Beer 5: Red Hook ESB

The beer was necessary because the other the portion of PPC is the entertainment. And I use the term loosely. This evening’s “entertainment” was the classic 1987 film Miami Connection.

It was the best crossover ’80s rock ninja movie I’ve ever seen.