Prologue: I wrote this about 2 weeks ago, another era. It's been an ugly week
here - everywhere really, but wanted to let you all know I'm fine a little sadder though,
Well, this has been 4 years in the writing. For those who joined the
adventure back in 1995, you might be familiar with letters 1 through 12
written mainly from England and capturing the adventures of an Australian
or two transplanted to another western culture with no functioning
toilets. I _really_ did mean to keep on writing once I arrived here in
San Francisco and even managed one letter, and then I hit letter #13
which has been inexplicably difficult to write. In a desperate last
ditch attempt, I've dragged a laptop out to Golden Gate park on a fog
ridden sunny day, via my favorite coffee place (Tully's - yes I kind of
drink coffee nowadays and invested in Starbucks), queued up some Nine
Inch Nails and 2 hours of battery life left am going to ramble through
the last few years. Forthose who through visits, extortion, bribery,
spy satellites etc have kept up to date, here's the latest snapshot:
Recent Trips: Daniel and Therese's wedding Sweden, Salt Lake City
(work), England (work). Planning a visit to London and various parts
of Europe at the end of the year.
Work: going _too_ smoothly, running the computational target discovery
group at Exelixis, helping people mutate things, clone and patent genes
etc, all that evil biotech type stuff. I'm not 110% obsessed with
work anymore. Exelixis has grown up from a chaotic little startup, and
I spend a lot more time working with people nowadays which for whatever
reason is not quite as intense and all consuming. Have been spending
a lot of time working out what the rest of career is going to look like.
Dating: *sigh* - still single, lots of nice female friends but no
Hobbies: bike riding up big hills, reading, writing, eating with friends,
evolving neural nets and designing robots from lego.
San Francisco: still love it, not perfect but has most of what I need
in a city. Pine occasionally for something a little more European,
or the relaxation of the Australian life style, but basically content.
Still smile flying back into the Bay Area every time.
Friends: I have an ever growing collection of Australians and English
friends met here or back homeplus a lot of "locals". Not a lot of people
are from the Bay Area, so people from all over the US and Canada. A lot
of young tech workers, but all sorts of people, into all sorts of things.
San Francisco has a reputation for being pretty alternative, so apart
from its amazing ethnic diversity, I'm increasingly meeting people into
just about everything, and it turns out it's not quite as shocking as
it's meant to be.
Trips home?: visit Melbourne and London in a kind of alternating fashion each Christmas.
Recent Pics: I have gotten off my backside and sorted out a rudimentary
home web server http://www.feb17.org, so you should be able to see
a selection of recent pics from the last year, and pic from the last
second or so from my window. Let me know if you see a parking spot!
I arrived May 23rd 1997, off a BA flight from London with 4 suitcases, and 1 guitar. After what was to become a regular waiting ritual in the 'visitors' queue at SF international, I found a shuttle and went straight to Exelixis on a Friday afternoon, just in time to check my email and go out to happy hour. This should all be in letter 12.
I've been living in the same apartment for the last 4 1/2 years. They
have "rent control" meaning they can only increase rent by inflation,
which has been wonderful over the last few crazy years when rents went
sky high with the .com "revolution". I'm starting to see apartments for
rent again, but paying just under $1200/month for a 500sq ft 1 bedroom
apartment in the middle of the Union Square area seems like a very good
deal nowadays still. I've occasionally pondered buying a nice victorian
house (they have some stunning houses here), but you seriously need
to pay $700,000 (US) to get anything nice in the city at the moment.
I'm not quite sure I'm that enthusiastic. As a side note, it will all
probably fall down in the next earthquake, although many houses didn't in
the 1906 earthquake, and were burnt instead. My current apartment was
built in 1908 - there is a great shot of the hill after the quake and
there's nothing there.. The biggest earthquake I've felt since living
here woke me up one morning and left the canopy on my four poster bed
swinging, they're just cute at that size..
Bikes, Bridges, Hills and Reverse Commutes:
My commute has remained remarkable constant over the last few years.
I've always just used a mountain bike (owning a car is a pain without a
parking space). Commutes are one of those things that define lifestyle
here. It usually depends on whether you are doing the forward or reverse
commute (a lot of people commute out of The City (SF) down to Silicon
Valley. Bridges (whether you need to cross one in the wrong direction)
are also a huge factor in quality of life. At first I rode over to the
East Bay (Oakland) each day via BART (local train service), and now I
take a different train down to South San Francisco or just ride the 24
or so Kms down or back if it's a nice day. It takes about 8 minutes to
ride to the train station including 4 very fast blocks (carefully timed
to hit the right cycle of traffic lights) off the hill. For those who
know SF, I'm on top of Nob Hill, just one block down from the Fairmont,
and about 5 from Union Square. Andrew (of Andrew and Linda fame),
captures the bicycling lifestyle nicely in
"What I Did On My Holidays" See chapter 11 for the start of the SF bit. Thanks Andrew!
The day it rained:
I even ride in the rain all through winter. California is well known for
nice weather, and SF for its fog. It's seldom really cold (or hot for
that matter) in SF proper. It can get very hot Nth, Sth and East of SF.
It rains reliably Dec through April, and something like May till October
can be very dry. I can remember a day of summer the first year I arrived
when there was a strange noise in our building. No one could work it
out till someone came back from a window and claimed it was raining.
We all stood and watched in rapture for a while and then our sysadmin
remembered that the consultants we were using had decided to move that
day, and had _taken the roof off the building_ to move the machine room.
It didn't rain for 2 months either side of that day. They got very wet.
It's a frequent observation of visitors and temporary residents here (plus
those who have never visited) that although the place is quite habitable,
they would have a hard time living in a place that is "So American".
Yes, there are lots of things to dislike - the institutional corruption
of the politicall system, large cars, geographic ignorance (I've been
asked what language they speak in Australia by relatively well educated
Americans, someone else upon saying they were from Australia, was told
"Oh I drove through there once.."), the vast and bigoted influence of the
religious right. To some degree the Bay Area is atypical. San Francisco
is minority caucasian, pretty liberal by US standards, and very tolerant.
I won't get used to dearth of world news in the local newspaper (I once
found an article on Afghanistan buried in a section fronted by a full
page Safeway ad with the banner "World news and classifieds inside".
The computing section by comparison doesn't exist - it's mostly local news
in the business section. Other aspects are more debatable. Americans are
definitely more extraovert (or pushy depending on how you label it).
Californians are famous for being able to express their feelings. This
can translate into a lack of sensitivity for other cultures which pride
themselves on being more understated (it certainly kills certain types
of humour - sarcasm and irony are just a lost cause on the West coast).
It's not entirely a bad thing though. I'm still stunned on occasions
at the skill with which people can articulate what they want, and living
here has certainly been good for bringing me out of my shell a little.
Despite my single status, I haven't been entirely idle for the last
few years. I dated one lovely American (Christine - many of you have
probably met her), and we even shared my tiny apartment with two cats
for about a year before deciding that the best friends in the world
don't necessary make a great relationship. We certainly explored our
respective quirks deeply and some of the cultural nuances. We even tried
6 months of very productive couples therapy California style - they say
pursuit of self knowledge is the ultimate form of aggression ;) I guess
I finally worked out that it's not just a long list of things you need
to match up in order to be 'compatible'. It's still a work in progress.
I'll keep you posted. A few of you out there study the frequency with
which different women turn up on the web site and make predictions ;)
Let me know if you see any trends.
In lots of ways Australia isn't too much different to California at
least, but every now and then I hit something amusing. There was the
day my neighours plant fell down the fire escape onto my landing and in
retelling the story, I discovered the different between a pot plant and
potted plant. There is also the wonderful annual ritual of thanksgiving.
I made a pavlova for dessert, although I was threatened if I failed to
produce pumpkin pie as well:
Glad to hear that we can depend on you for pumpkin pie (some people enjoy
to top it with whipped cream...and some people might be outraged if none
is provided). In case you haven't figured it out already, let me point
out that Americans are fairly picky when it comes to Thanksgiving meals.
It's probably one of our least easy to understand quirks.
Are you also going to make that australian dessert? I'm curious to
know what one would taste like...I imagine it would be a close relative
to something English. Is it made of prunes?
Halloween is also huge here (especially in the Bay Area). It's usually
a huge street party in the Castro (the main gay neighbourood) - 10 x
10 blocks filled with people in all sorts of costimes - boys dressed as
girls, girls as boys, people dressed as cars, complete with dead cyclist
on the front. It's usually a bit of a riot.
I've managed to keep most of my accent intact, although I hear American
phonemes creeping in, and of course you need to swap a few words to be
understood. I have moments when I remember there's a polymorphism but
can't remember whether lift or elevator is American/UK or Australian.
It's not a completely bad thing..
I've consciously spent a lot of time lately trying to get away from just
drifting contently in a crazy rush through life day to day and thinking
about what I want to do with life. On the work front, if I had any idea
what my career would look like in 10 years I could probably make a fortune
just investing. Bioinformatics has gone from not really existing to being
a hot career since I left Australia and I think there's a lot left to do
although it's stuck in a rut at the moment and people aren't thinking terribly
creatively about what might be possible.. I think a lot about where I
might want to live still, and maybe doing some academic again at some stage,
and other non work things in life like love and relationships,
quality of life etc..
Well I'm running low on batteries, and need to ride a little more, so
I'll finish up here and hope to hear from you soon. My email situation
has improved lately and the inbox has been under 200 even on one occasion,
so keep bugging me if I don't reply quickly. I love visitors!, so please
drop by and say hello. I have a spare bed, although you should check in
advance I'm actually going to be in the city. I've attached a few SF
cliches at the end here, some self explanatory, some probably a little
obscure, will happily explain any if anyone is curious. I hope this
finds you well - heck I hope it makes it to you - it's been hard keeping
track of everyone's email address - if you find out I'm missing someone,
just pass it along.
YOU KNOW YOU LIVE IN THE SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA WHEN
1. Your co-worker tells you he has eight body piercings - none are
2. When someone says "TENDERLOIN", you don't think steak; you think
3. You make well over $100,000 and you still can't find a nice place to
4. You think anyone who drives a car to work is decadent.
5. You keep a list of companies to boycott.
6. You would never dream of crossing a picket line.
7. You take the bus and are shocked at two people carrying on a
conversation in English.
8. You realize there are far more Rainbow flags in the city than the
California State flag.
9. The guy who cuts your hair is straight, and your plumber is gay.
10.The woman who delivers your mail is straight, and your Mary Kay
Lady is gay.
11. Old friends you haven't talked to in years suddenly call. "Do you
a spare bedroom for a weekend?"
12. You think anyone wearing a George Clooney haircut is visiting from
13. You can't remember...Is pot still illegal?
14. You go to your office manager's baby shower. The parents are
named Judy and Becky.
15. You give a "thumbs up" gesture to a car with a FREE TIBET bumper
sticker--and you mean it.
16. You have a very strong opinion where your coffee beans are grown,
and are willing to fight about it.
17. A really great parking spot can move you to tears.
18. You know that anyone wearing shorts in June is just visiting from
19. A man walks on MUNI in full leather regalia and crotchless chaps, and
you don't notice.
20. You curse those damn tourists - but always stop to help a cute
person who is looking puzzled at a city map.
21. When you drive under an underpass, for one moment you think
22. Your boss runs in "The Bay to Breakers" . . . it's not the first time
you have seen him nude.
23. Your child's third grade teacher has a nose ring and is named
24. You haven't been to Fisherman's Wharf since the last time your
out-of-state relatives visited the Bay Area.
25. You are thinking of taking an adult education class, but you can't
decide between a Yoga, Channeling or Building Your Web Site class.
26. Your new neighbors go to temple, but you are still not sure if they
are Jewish or Buddhist.
27. You realize the only Republicans you know are your Aunt and Uncle