This time last week I arrived back from San Francisco. I had attended the International Conference on Computer Science and Applications which was part of the World Congress on Engineering and Computer Science. I arrived two days before the conference which allowed me to adjust my sleep pattern (8 hours time difference) and also do some sightseeing. I flew on a 10 hour flight with Virgin Atlantic, whose entertainment system is the best of any airline I've flown with (I assume it's because Virgin Media has lots of media deals). However, I started watching several films and got bored so didn't finish them. I did like the The Disappearance of Alice Creed though.
I arrived around 14:00 in the afternoon on Sunday and it took around two hours to get through security and collect bags at the airport - passport check, photo, fingerprints, 'interrogation'. After arriving I knew I could take the BART system to the hotel in Berkeley. However, it took me a while to figure out where to get off and that I had to change trains. The BART system is very good apart from the ticket machines - you have to look at the price for the station you want to go to and adjust the price on the screen to match; why can't you just select the station on screen? It took around 45 minutes to get from the Airport to the hotel via BART. When I arrived I had dinner via room service and went to bed.
On Monday, I first went to Alcatraz Island which I had booked before I left, as it is very popular. The island was formerly a fort, a military prison and then a civilian prison before finally closing in 1963. It is now managed by the US National Park Service and contains a variety of plants and wildlife including many species of birds. Many of the original buildings are still standing and an audio tour narrated by former guards and prisoners guides tourists around. The tour lasts around 45 minutes but there is also other areas of the island to explore, including an interesting 17 minute Discovery Channel video about the island. There are also live talks throughout the day about the history of the island, including a talk about escapes.The island also provides good views of the city and the Golden Gate Bridge (unless it's foggy).
After returning from Alcatraz I had lunch at Pier 39, part of Fisherman's Wharf - a very touristy area containing souvenir shops and places to eat. I had clam chowder in a sour dough breadbowl at the Boudin bakery - very famous in San Francisco - and it was really nice. I also had a toasted sour dough cheese sandwich. Sea lions have also made a home at Pier 39.In the afternoon I went on two City Sightseeing tour busses - one through Presidio, across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito and back again; the other around downtown San Francisco at night. The American tour bus guides were very insistent on getting tips; it was mentioned many times that they live off tips and that they do a great job so give tips etc.
On Tuesday I took a third tour bus (4 hop-on hop-off tour routes were include on the $45 ticket) around the downtown area - a slightly different route than the night bus. I couldn't find the tour bus stop near the BART station so I walked to the starting stop; this was another differences from Cape Town - none of the stops were signposted in San Francisco.
After the tour bus I took a cable car to Lombard Street on Russian Hill ("the crookedest street in the world") and then on to the free cable car museum and downtown San Francisco. The cable car system is very cool - there are four routes where a cable is continuously moving under the street at a constant speed of 9.5mph. The cable cars themselves "grip" onto the moving cable and are dragged along.
I stopped at The Cheesecake Factory, on the top floor of Macy's at Union Square, for lunch. I had enchiladas with rice and beans, followed by a 30th anniversary chocolate cheesecake. It was really nice but the portions were huge so I couldn't eat it all.
In the afternoon I had tea and sweet rice cakes in the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park. After returning back to the hotel I went to an American diner below the hotel for diner which was nicer and cheaper than the hotel.
On Wednesday the conference started. It was held at the Clark Kerr campus of the University of California in Berkerley - about 30 minutes walk from the hotel. The conference started well with many attendees in the keynote talk about GPS. However, the individual sessions had less people in and I was disappointed with the lack of attendance - including presenters. None-the-less the conference was interesting and there were several people with some good ideas in a variety of subject areas. There was also an demonstration of a cool robot designed for universities teaching AI (among other things).
On Thursday, I presented my paper An Evaluation of Static Bytecode Watermarks - which went well but the audience was very small. I volunteered to present again later in the day when some presenters didn't turn up. The second time the audience was larger and the reception of my talk was good. My paper is the first one in the printed proceedings! In the evening was the conference dinner - the food was very nice and included chicken and salmon.
Friday was the last day of the conference and contained a few interesting talks. I got the bus back to the hotel and then went to a local luggage shop to purchase a larger suitcase - I'd bought too much candy to fit in my small case! I took a BART train to San Francisco's waterfront to have one last walk around and got a chicken quesadilla from Taco Bell for dinner.
On Saturday morning I checked-out of the hotel very early and dragged my suitcase to the BART train which I rode to downtown San Francisco. I stopped at Burger King and ordered an Ultimate Platter breakfast - very unhealthy; it contained the equivalent of 3 meals: 3 pancakes with syrup, a sausage burger, scrambled egg, hash browns and a scone (which Americans call a biscuit for some reason).
After breakfast I struggled with my large suitcase on a MUNI bus towards Golden Gate Park; the ride cost $2 and took around 30 minutes. I went to the California Academy of Sciences - a natural history museum, planiterium, aquarium, rainforest and research institute under a living roof. I managed to convince a manager to let me leave my suitcase at the coat-check so I could walk around easily. The museum was smaller than I thought but the exhibits were really good. The 30 minute planiterium show was narrated by Whoopi Goldberg and the topic was the life of stars. The indoor rainforest contains fish, plants, small insects and reptiles in glass boxes, and free flying birds and butterflies. The aquarium is in the basement across the whole building and has sections on the ground floor in the middle, and in the rainforest which can be seen in the basement too. There are also live penguins which are fed during a talk by staff of the museum.
The trip was a great experience although I was slightly disappointed at the WCECS 2010 conference due to the low number of attendees. However, there were some interesting talks & people and my presentation was well received.