California Dreaming

I’m back. Actually, I’ve been back since Sunday, but the first day back at Vicar School (for the first day of the final year *gulp*) followed by a very full day back at church, followed by jet lag sucking all writing ability out of my brain has meant that blogging has been in abeyance.

As the rain lashes against the windows, the sun and heat of California seems like a dream. Was it only this time last week that I was sitting outside a bar in Berkeley eating sliders? Or sitting in a hot tub enjoying a glass of wine? Ho hum. Life continues in London and at quite a pace.

The highlights? Well, to follow on from my Silicon Valley adventures, we did return to Apple. Inside Infinite Loop 3, we spent over an hour sitting in the pleasant gardens outside the Apple canteen. (We arrived at ‘cookie happy hour’, surely any hour that involves cookies is happy?) Shannon had originally met the head of Apple’s ‘Evangelism’ team in May, through a mutual friend, and fixed up a meeting at his office so he could share some of his thoughts about the connections between business, the church and theology. Fascinating stuff.

Liz @Apple

While at Apple, it seemed foolish not to make the most of the company store and (finally) avail myself of an iPad. (Especially as our new friend provided his employee discount too.) It’s already been a smart move, given college’s decision to go paperless in its teaching as of next week.

There was also enough Mexican food to feed a Mexican family for quite some time. (Apparently ‘Cal-Mex’ is a thing in the same way that Tex-Mex is – who knew?) I can recommend specifically:

  • El Metate in the Mission area of San Francisco. (Home of an awesome al pastor tostado salad.)
  • Nopalito on Broderick St, to the north of the city. (Awesome sangria and dark chocolate & cinnamon popsicles.)
  • Facebook’s burritos.
  • The Paleo diet version of tortillas – lettuce leaves. A handy tip for a low-carb Mexican dinner.

Napolita feastBeautiful Mexican feast – all thanks to a recommendation all the way from Houston. (Randomly, after I posted this on Instagram, discovered that a London friend had eaten here last year!)

I also learnt some things that could be valuable to readers, should they be hopping over the pond any time soon:

  • Swot up on the Royal Family. In response to hearing my British accent, I was immediately asked – with immense excitement – how George was. George? Oh, the newest prince, obviously! People appeared genuinely disappointed when it emerged that I hadn’t actually met him.
  • Also swot up on Doctor Who. I was asked my opinion on the new Dr on more than one occasion (at this point, do I confess to the blog that I’m not that into the show?), and was at least able to recognise his name out of context! 
  • Don’t be offended if people think you’re Australian. The American ear genuinely struggles to discern the difference between British, Aussie and Kiwi – but then, how good are you at telling the difference between New York, Minnesota and Oregon accents? [To be fair, I’ve been mistaken for an Aussie in London too.]
  • Downton Abbey is a great leveller and excellent frame of reference. (Always laugh at American impressions of characters.) All of a sudden, there seems to be a greater understanding of the importance of tea – at one point, I even discovered a box of Earl Grey tea bought solely because it had a building that looked like Downton on it, which is no bad thing! Oh, and it’s a rare occasion that we Brits get to gloat that we see a TV series earlier than America does, series 4 begins on Sunday – they have to wait till January.

There are some specific blogposts to come, both here and on the Matryoshka Haus blog. (Want to know about public transportation in the Bay area? Stay tuned…) In the mean time, there ought to be some Friday Fun here tomorrow.

The beautiful things about Jobs

This post has been brewing for a couple of weeks, in fact, I nearly wrote it last night. However, at just before 1am this morning, it suddenly became incredibly apt that I hadn’t written it yet. A post in praise of my brand new shiny toy with a piece of fruit on the front of it deserves publication on the day that Britain woke up to hear that Steve Jobs had died.

There’s no question that Jobs’ creations have changed computing, phones, film and music beyond recognition. (I think to say that he changed the world is possibly a bit of an exaggeration given how much of the world’s population need simpler things to enhance their lives – like food or healthcare.) Being something of a technophobe until recent years, Apple had very little impact upon my life until three and a half years ago. In fact, I went through a phase of deliberately avoiding owning an iPod because of its ubiquity – that ended when a gift enabled the purchase of a beautiful silver music playing device. That year, I needed a new laptop and I toyed with going to the Mac-side, but chickened out and played safe.

Buying an iPhone was always going to happen and sure enough, nearly a year ago (after at least three prophetic iPhone dreams) I succumbed. It may sound ridiculous, but that’s changed my life – I don’t get lost nearly as often as I used to; I can instantly prove myself right (or, occasionally, wrong); and, most importantly, it helps me fall asleep (programmes on iPlayer) or restores my sanity when I have insomnia. Ironically, it was in this last state that I heard the news about Apple’s co-founder – a quick look at Twitter on my iPhone in between attempts to sleep just before 1am showed a tweet from Gizmodo. Within seconds Twitter was ablaze with tributes – including one which noted:
“It’s crazy to think about how many people are sharing the news of Steve Jobs’ death using devices he invented.”

There will be countless tributes printed to Jobs’ undoubted genius, his passion for creating products that were intuitive and were what the public wanted – before they even knew they wanted them. My own personal tribute is the fact that I’m writing this post on a computer that’s the most expensive piece of technology I’ve ever bought, but that I chose to spend more on because I had confidence in it as a brand and a product. (Plus, obviously, I thought it would make me look cooler at college. I’m not sure yet if it does, it seems my typing skills are impressing more people…) 
A friend was visiting when the package arrived – I told her she’d be impressed with the packaging. 
She was.

What can I say? It’s shiny, it’s beautiful, it’s intuitive. By the time I next used a PC 10 days later my brain had switched to Mac-mode and I became frustrated at its inability to be smooth and efficient. (Not making that mistake again, darling Macbook now comes with me on office days.) I’m still getting the hang of it, but fortunately, I seem to be living with a Norwegian techy genius and have plenty of friends who have already crossed over to the ‘dark side’. (There was a Twitter debate last week as to whether it was dark or light, we concluded dark, I think…) I need to make a decision about Office for Mac versus iWork, but I’m currently undecided – Pages is beautiful and I love it, but I can’t help thinking that essays might be easier in Word (thoughts – anyone?). 
Steve Jobs, thank-you. We have much to be grateful to you for (not least the fact that with an iPhone, one need never be bored again) and it’s terribly sad to think of what might have been, had your life not been cut short. 

Reasons why I should have an iPhone #74 & #75*

I’m still waiting for my third dream in which I use an iPhone before I actually cave and get one. (Having had two such dreams, I wondered whether God was trying to tell me something. My mother suggested that Biblically, three such dreams could be seen as a divine ordinance…)

In the mean time, more and more reasons for having one get chalked up on the ‘pros’ list. You’ll know most of them – Facebook on the go; mobile blogging; a handy little app to tell me what the tube’s doing & when my train will reach the platform; tweeting more effectively; the ability to instantly prove that I’m right courtesy of Wikipedia/Google; having something to do whilst waiting for friends to turn up in bars…y’know, all the things we think are pretty much ‘essential’ these days.

I’m well aware that there’s some serious dross available from the app store, but every so often I come across something that makes me wish I had the device of dreams…

Reason #74
‘Sleep cycle’. [I’ve just realised how many sleep references led up to this, totally unintentional!] This genius app helps monitor your sleep patterns, waking you up when you’re at the more awake end of the sleep spectrum rather than in deep sleep. (You set an alarm, it wakes you up within half an hour of it.) Not only should this mean you wake up more easily, but it also produces handy graphs to show how well you’ve slept.

The friend that introduced me to this helpfully sent along a couple of graphs to illustrate her different sleep patterns. The ones below show last Thursday versus the Friday before, which was a great night’s sleep given the amount of time spent at the ‘deep sleep’ end of the scale.

My last couple of month’s of sleep have been plagued with insomnia and general sleeplessness, so having a little gadget that measures my sleep quality would be rather intriguing…

Reason #75
The Dave Walker/Cartoon Church app. Dave Walker’s cartoons are genius & it links to the Dullest Blog in the World – what’s not to like?

*These are utterly made-up numbers. Just in case you were wondering whether this was an actual list or something….

Falling in love at the Apple Store

Today’s Friday Fun is brought to you courtesy of YouTube, the Apple Store and one very odd guy with way too much time on his hands.

Last week (oh, was it only last week?!) I received a message from my friend who sends me fun things, with this video attached and a suggestion that whilst in New York I check out the store where it was filmed. I’d actually considered going to the Apple Church, sorry, store – but didn’t know where it was.

Luckily, I happened upon it whilst strolling down 5th Ave the very next day and entered the bizarre cuboid entrance. A spiral staircase leads you into what could easily be a Bond villain’s lair – except it’s a lot lighter, has a lot of people in it as well as many friendly lanyard wearing employees.

Best thing about Apple stores? Free internet access. I initially used this to compare the prices of iPod Touches in the UK and US, but then thought “sod it” and went on Facebook like everyone else. I managed to avoid purchasing anything (despite a follow-up visit the next day) but I have a theory…

Whilst in the Apple store, I continued a conversation with the sender of the video, which went along these lines:

Me: Think I’m being converted into a Mac person. Using the most lovely MacBook pro atm, love it! Everything in the Apple Store is so lovely. Do you think they pump something through the air con that makes people need to buy things?? [I was clearly under the influence of something – that kind of excitement about technology is not typical of me!]

Friend: Probably. Apple basically = the Dark Side [The irony of this comment is that it was written on a Mac.]

Did I fall in love at the Apple Store? Yes. It’s been over a week now and I still want a MacBook. (Although I want an iPhone more.) I wonder how long the chemicals will affect me?

Sorry, did I have a point? Oh yes, this video, a marvel of lyric composition and sheer nerve…

Succumbing to materialism

For some unexplained reason I’ve always had an issue with products that are omnipresent and/or over-advertised. It’s the main reason why I’ve not bought Pantene hair products despite regularly rotating through most of the other brands on the market.

No product typified this rationale more than the ubiquitous ipod…itunes…iphone…anything with an “i” in front of it. [Noteable exception being the BBC iplayer.]

Sure, it was exciting enough when it first appeared but for years it was out of my price range & I had no desire to commit to a seemingly restrictive music format and library. I stayed loyal to my generic mp3 player and looked down upon all the Apple junkies.

I had a dramatic change of heart last month when I used itunes for the first time. The only reason I went on there was because it was the only place I could buy a friend’s EP. All of a sudden there was an online store that remembered my credit details & seemingly had any track I could think of.

Then I realised how cheap ipods had become, how shiny the new silver classic was, how big the storage capacity was…I nearly justified to myself that once my current 2gb player died, I’d replace it with an ipod. Then my mother went and gave me a particularly generous & unexpected cash gift – so I was all set.

[Annoyingly, at the same time as this happened a good friend made a similar decision and being a quick-thinking male, bought one immediately. I on the other hand, waited till after my holiday and had to wait a week for it to arrive from Amazon.]

It arrived at my office today in a lovely compact little box – no excessive packaging – and looking lovely. I’m now on a mission to find the perfect clear skin for it to keep it nice & shiny.

Jeez…today’s probably been my geekiest day ever!