San Francisco, Day 1

I love my job.

I’m sitting in a 25th floor room in the Hilton, San Francisco, looking out across the city. Magnificent. I vow to ride up to the top floor later. From the 46th floor I will be able to see more than just this glimpse of the Golden Gate Bridge.

I arrived yesterday evening after a gruelling journey from England. A whole day without rest. The only advantage was that I had time to read the whole of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Air travel is boring but at least its a great chance to engage in mammoth reading sessions like that. Jet lag is a bitch though; it woke me up after only 6 hours sleep last night. Look, internal body-clock. I need this. Don’t you understand? It’s not midday, it’s four in the morning. No sense reasoning with it I suppose. Best just to gradually adjust.

I’m here for a conference. I am speaking at a ‘Technical Developers’ conference. (There are non-technical developers somewhere? Keep them away from me.) Today is a dead day as far as the conference goes. Food and drinks will be served later, so I shall go and network. I have business cards with me. These will go to deserving people only. Business card whores, who feel the day is not complete unless they get through a stack of 50 cards, annoy the hell out of me. I couldn’t do that. I brought about 20 with me. Most of the reason I’m so frugal with my cards is that I hate it when people contact me after conferences. I’m a developer. Conferences are strictly a side-line.

I briefly visit the conference center. About 9:30. No rush. I register – enjoying as I always do the ever-so-slightly surprised look in the eye of the staff when I (looking no older than my 22 years) register as a speaker. Internally I’m saying “Yes. I’m speaking. Yes, I probably am the same age as your son. I’m sure he could speak in public too if he wanted.” I have never had a problem with speaking to audiences.

The cinema one block from the conference center opens at 10 am. It was a Loews Cineplex. I watch the 11:30 showing of American Pie 2. Not quite as funny as the original but pretty watchable. The hour between buying the ticket and the start of the film I spend wandering and eating. I found a Burger King. It took an age to find the right change. “A dime is 10 cents, right?” I’m still not used to this currency. I will never know why the nickel is twice the size of the dime. That’s stupid. My favourite coin is the quarter. Pretty, pleasantly sized and a reasonable value. We don’t have 25p coins in the UK. The 20p is the closest you get. Mind you, we gave up on £1 notes a while ago too (we == English. They still exist in Scotland). Dollar bills don’t annoy me though. It’s fun to hold a wad of cash and not know how much is there until you’ve checked every note. Does the Federal Bank think that different colours and sizes for different valued notes would be too radical?

San Francisco feels like a real US city. I was in Minneapolis two weeks ago (another conference) and it felt much more sterile. San Francisco is dirtier. It has more homeless people. I felt more threatened as I wandered at dusk last night but, wow, it’s more real . It’s far more alive than Minneapolis. You’re ON the streets rather than 20 feet above them in a glass-covered walkway. Oh, and the roads really do go up and down hills just like in all those driving games. I havn’t seen anyone leave the ground yet but I’m sure with just a little speed it would be possible. Perhaps I will rent a Porsche and try it later. Or perhaps not.

I spend some time working. I have some Java to write.

The dinner at the conference center is good. Buffet food and free beers. I feel lonely and lost at first. There are over three thousand people and not one person I’ve ever met before. I wander around with food and beer looking for a table. When I sit down randomly at a table it is next to a young couple from Australia. He works with the software product I used to test. We talk shop, interspersed with pleasant small talk about the differences between Australian, American and English cultures.

He wants to mingle some more, so I continue to wander. I get chatting to two very friendly guys. They have recently signed a resale agreement for the brand new software I am here to speak about tomorrow. We chat happily about its features when suddenly it hit me. I am networking. It hits both of us at once, and we exchange cards.

The guys want to watch an American Football match at their hotel (the Hilton. It’s my hotel too), so we go there and get a few more beers. Conversation is varied. American Football. Rugby. The Kyoto Protocol. Hunting. Planet of the Apes. South Africa. Max Payne.

As I get to bed at 11pm I send my wife an SMS message. She replies straight away. She just got up. Of course, it’s 7am at home. Very weird.