California Dreamin’

The houses in San Francisco are like nothing I’ve ever seen before. All soft pastels and strange designs, like they came from the mind of a delirious architect. In fact, a lot of my time here has been strangely reminiscent of houses from The Sims. houses

In the city itself, I really enjoyed the walk through Haight and Ashbury – the staggering hills are worth it for the view – and into Golden Gate Park. Did anyone else know they have a bison enclosure there?!

bison

Seeing the bridge itself up close is pretty amazing too; I think on a future visit I’ll have to cycle across and into the redwoods park.

I’ve been lucky enough to see both sides of the Bay area, from flashy, car-centric Silicone Valley to the quieter, campusy feel of Berkley. Here it smells of honeysuckle and people leave  free things outside their houses.

lands end

I did enjoy a visit to Google however, and it’s certainly strange to see the names of huge websites on the sides of offices.

And then there was Yosemite.

I had considered just going for a daytrip – I’m so glad I decided to stay the weekend. The national park completely blew away my expectations; it’s the kind of place which words like ‘awestruck’ were made for. Forests, mountains, waterfalls – I loved my time here, and it reminded me just how much I enjoy being in the outdoors.

waterfall

I travelled with Green Tortoise tours, which were fantastic, and got in a hike, a trip to the giant sequoia trees, and a lazy afternoon spent drifting down the Merced river. 

We ended the trip at the longest continuously open saloon in the west, complete with stuffed game trophies, number plates from every state and dollar bills stuck to the ceiling like nesting moths.

Thoughts on Google and the end of the world

I know this isn’t a book, but check out this article in the London Review of Books. It’s about the domination of Google, and how it’s feedback system allows it to become more and more intelligent every time we use it. Since I use Google a lot, in a work capacity as well as just random searches, it’s really made me think about what a powerful tool it is, and how impossible life would be now if it were suddenly removed. It also holds some lessons for our own mental wellbeing; every time we click on a link that is below the number one spot, we are showing Google that it got the ranking wrong, and it needs to readjust the information it provides us with. Instead of facing this criticism with sulking, defensiveness or a drop in self confidence, Google learns from the experience. Without these criticisms, it could never have become as intelligent as it is now. All feedback is useful. Everything we experience can teach us something, even if its something which we feel threatened by.

On an entirely unrelated note, I finished the Kraken Wakes. I have to say I didn’t like it as much as I mostly like his books, and found it a bit disappointing. The book focuses on the (admittedly more realistic) element of how humanity would react if there was really an alien invasion. We would be confused, and very slow to react, and react badly, and turn on each other. However the despondent atmosphere makes it hard to enjoy. The slow, bleak loss of hope is probably a more truthful portrayal of the end of the world, however much we (or just me?) like the drama of one final battle, with blazing emotions, and devastating losses. The monotony that uncertainty and futility would create is far more depressing than some grand sacrifice, or bittersweet victory. I read the whole thing waiting for something to happen, and by the time you realise that this is all there is, there has been nothing but emptiness for so long there are no contrasts left. Its why I didn’t like The Road, even though again, I understand that that is the whole point; the desolation of the circumstances is reflected in a tedious narrative where nothing happens, and all emotions are numbed.