The Visa Collector

A blog about travelling with a Filipino passport, and life overseas

Archives for US, California

Fleet Week @ SF 2012


Airshows are one of the many fun things about our stay in the US thus far. One particular display of military hardware that we frequent is the San Francisco Fleet Week. I’ve been going to this event annually since 2005, with the exception of two years were business trips got in the way. In previous years, my wife and I picked a spot on Pier 39 and watched the boats and planes go by. This year, we decided to try out the paid box seats at the Marina Green. The music and the narration from the event organizers definitely provided a dimension that had been missing in previous years. But am not entirely convinced that it was worth the ticket price, especially since one could simply sit on the ground, in the vicinity of the seats, and still get the benefit of added information.

Here are some photos of the event. This album will grow slowly as I prep my photos for posting.

Filed under US, California
Oct 7, 2012

The birds of San Francisco


There is a small park beside the Embarcadero Center, on the corner of Clay and Drumm Sts., that the casual bird-watcher in me wants to visit whenever I can. The cluster of trees there hosts a sizable population of green parrots that have made the city their home. Presumably this is part of the flock that roosts in nearby Telegraph Hill. This flying community has been featured on a number of TV programs, to include the following.

City residents apparently love their birds. Which appears to give rise to an interesting . . . culture . . . among the city’s avian residents.

Aggressive . . . relentless . . . self-entitled.

We discovered these facets of San Franciso’s bird population first hand a few years ago when my wife and I took her parents around the touristy part of the city’s waterfront. We bought hotdogs from a street vendor and were enjoying an afternoon stroll by the water. As we moved from one photo-op site to another, muching on our meals, Seagulls were circling overhead. We had apparently wandered into their domain, and we would soon find out that they expected a toll in exchange for passage. While posing for a photo, my father-in-law held his sandwich off to one side. That became the toll collector’s cue and a large grey-white mass of feathers swooped in and halved what was left of dad’s dog. The hotdog wasn’t on the ground, or left on the table unattended. It was in a live person’s hand — within throat-grabbing distance.

Shock came first, followed immediately thereafter with laughter and amusement, as well as begrudging admiration at a display of audacity. It was an unexpected novelty that added another fun dimension to the day. Since then, when my wife and I find ourselves in SF, we’re on the lookout for unsuspecting tourists that find themselves in a similar situation. This experience apparently wasn’t unique to us.

Gulls are not alone in their belief that people exist to feed them. The other week, while enjoying a beautiful sunny day at the Ferry Building, we ran into the following bird that expected a culinary tribute for allowing us to sit at its table.

Perched on the back rest of the chair beside me, this bird had an unflinching laser-like focus on our french fries. We tried shooing it away and only stopped short of actually touching it it wouldn’t budge. There was no breaking its concentration, or shaking its belief that “Puny land-bound human, where’s my share?!!!”

We were all more accustomed to birds that were fearful of people. Back home, these creatures understood that most humans either viewed them as sport . . . or even in some circumstances, as snacks. San Franciscans are apparently a kinder lot, to whom these feathered flying appetites have grown accustomed. These KFC-ingredient-candidates are lucky to live where they do. They arguably wouldn’t survive long back home.

These birds are as much a part the city as the fog that obscures the Golden Gate bridge on what would otherwise be a clear day, or the local micro-climate that simulate different seasons in a single day. They are part of the quirkiness of the city, and I really wouldn’t have it any other way.

Besides . . . its fun watching dumbfounded tourists watching their hotdogs plucked from their hands and carried aloft. Schadenfreude!!!

Aug 19, 2012

Where did the time go?


My DMV sticker came today. Can you believe we’re half way through 2013 already?

Jun 27, 2012

Light, shade, and temperature


In February of last year, a good friend stayed at our apartment for a long weekend. On his second day, I took him to a Filipino restaurant in San Mateo for brunch. We arrived early, so the place, called Kuya’s, hadn’t opened yet.

As we waited outside the establishment, I noticed how my guest started to shiver from the late-morning cold. So I found a patch of sunlight, stood there, and asked him to join me. When he stepped into the light, relief from the cold was almost immediate. It was as much a surprise to him, as it was to me the first time I noticed the temperature differences between light and shade in my first winter in Taiwan. I snapped the following photo to commemorate the “aha” moment.

Under the blazing tropical sun, shade is associated with relief. Leaving the shade for relief was a foreign concept. It’s a lesson that you learn quickly, however, even in sub-tropical countries that don’t really have snow — like Taiwan.

I experienced an even sharper contrast between light and shade when I went to Kanata, Canada (a suburb of Ottawa) on a business trip a couple weeks short of Christmas. This is what greeted me on my first morning.

Overnight, a layer of frost had formed on the cars in the hotel parking lot. This wasn’t California-style, turn-on-the-wiper-and-you’re-done frost. You actually had to scrape this stuff off. Surprising as that phenomenon was (it was the first time I’d ever had to drive in that kind of weather), what even more surprising was how the curvature of the windshield was enough to keep the morning sun from melting all of the frost. Hence the powder-white patch on the right side of the car.

For most of my stay at the hotel, I parked where the photo above was taken. However on Thursday night, there was a hockey game at a nearby stadium and game parking spilled over to the hotel parking lot. So I ceded my usual spot and parked behind the hotel building. It seemed like a good idea at the time since there was virtually no competition on that side of the building.  I found out why the following morning.

The parking slots there were completely shielded from the sun. So I had a whole lot of scraping to do. I know my east coast and European friends who are more accustomed to full-blown winters will look at that picture and laugh. But hey . . . we don’t have that issue in the tropics . . . or California for that matter. It was as new to me, as the light-and-shade revelation my friend experienced in February.

The things I enjoy most about travelling are the little discoveries that tell you “you’re no longer at home”. A close second is taking visitors, who are new to my part of world, around to experience the sights, sounds, and tastes of my living space. Through their comments and questions, things that had become routine and mundane become fresh all over again.

Thank you for that visit my friend, and for that re-discovery of the non-tropical relationship between light, shade, and temperature.

Jun 17, 2012

2012 A.D.


My wife and I welcomed the new year in San Francisco. We booked a room at the Hyatt Regency, had dinner at E&O Trading Co., and proceeded to the Sinbad Restaurant parking lot to watch the city’s fireworks show. The show actually lasted 15 minutes, but I only took 3 minutes of it so that I could focus on the spectacle. Too bad I didn’t record the “smiley face” and Saturn-shaped blooms.

Filed under US, California
Jan 1, 2012

Bike pump: Topeak Road Morph


My wife and I were supposed to go out for a bike ride today. But as I retrieved the bikes from our rack, it became apparent that our tires needed re-inflation. We didn’t have a tire pump ever since our car got broken into (more on that story on another post) and our air compressor got stolen, and I had procrastinated on getting a replacement. So we put off the ride, and I was off to the local sports store.

The Topeak Road Morph called to me. It was a reasonably priced, appeared well designed, and had a sensible mounting configuration. So made a zorro with the credit card, and I was the proud owner of one.

The pump didn’t come with documentation, and assumed that anyone that bought it knew the difference between a Presta and Schrader valve. There was a diagram on the box that, on hindsight, did explain how to reconfigure the pump for either valve (my mountain bike apparently used the later). But if you didn’t know what you were looking at . . . things would get interesting. It actually crossed my mind that I had bought a pump that had parts missing.

Happily the following videos were available, and saved me the trouble of going back to the store.

How to use the pump

How to reconfigure the valve

Oct 22, 2011

First Gigwalk 100


Finally broke $100 with Gigwalk. So I’m celebrating this milestone with a post. It took me 22 gigs to reach this amount. Thirteen of these gigs were panos (short for Photosynth panoramic photographs), and 7 were for closed businesses that were only worth $2.

I focused on closed business for the first few gigs till I figured out my pano techniques. Like quite a few Gigwalkers, I learned the trade by watching an instructional video prepared by one of the early Gigwalkers (meaning he was in on the whole Gig-thing when it started in the middle of year. In the computer age, it’s interesting how one can become an “old-timer” in mere months). Many thanks Marc T!!!


I’m a casual Gigwalker; nowhere near as aggressive as some Gigwalkers, some of whom claim to go for as many 20 gigs in a day. So I wasn’t able to maximize the “Lucky 7” promo where all gigs were worth $7 for a few days, before they want back to the default $4. I recently picked up the pace when prices went back to $8, but many of the places I frequent have been picked clean. When my wife and I went to Castro St. in Mountain View for lunch yesterday, I found that the place had been pretty much picked clean. I may have to plan my day to include gigs. This is starting to become a really interesting hobby.

Now . . . I wonder how this is going to be reflected in my taxes.

Filed under US, California
Oct 16, 2011

Gigwalk: First paid gig



A couple of weeks ago, friends brought up how they had signed up for Gigwalk ( My wife chimed in and mentioned how the company behind this had actually been on the news recently since it was slowly picking up steam. Here is CNN’s report on this concept.

I’m a veteran, honest, Foursquarer, so I’m familiar with the treasure-hunt appeal of these sorts of applications. But unlike Foursquare, this platform actually paid you to visit establishments. So I figured that I’d give it a try and signed up to be a “Gigwalker” via their iPhone application.

Unlike FourSquare, where you simply signed to a specific location, and you were done, Gigwalking is quite involved. You really will earn whatever they pay you.

I tried out my first task, called a “gig”, while I was waiting in the parking lot for Sunday mass. We arrived at church early so we had time to kill. I played around with the gig finder on the Gigwalk application, and discovered that there was a gig literally within walking distance. So I figured I’d zip in and zip out of the gig . . . and just learn how to use the application on the fly. Apparently not the wisest of ideas.

Gigs follow a template that the Gigwalk application lays out for you. When you start a Gig, you follow step-by-step procedures that you have to accomplish before you submit to Gigwalk for evaluation. The steps, however, are optimized for individuals who take the time to read through the whole procedure . . . and not rush into things the way I did.

For one thing, the Gigwalk application isn’t the only thing you will need to accomplish the Gig. You need the Microsoft Photosynth application, which you have to download separately, to take the 360 degree views within the establishment that the gigs require. Because I rushed in, I didn’t realize until halfway through the gig instructions that I had to download Photosynth. With only minutes till mass started . . . it felt like was one of the longest downloads ever.

Once I had Photosynth installed, I had to figure out how it worked. It’s pretty simple to operate really. But as with all things under time pressure, it felt harder than it actually was. I eventually figured the app out, sorted out my Photosynth account settings, took what I thought were acceptable (which they weren’t, more on that in a later post) photographs of the establishment both inside and outside, then made mad dash for the pew.

Sadly after all that . . . that gig eventually got rejected. As I would later learn, there was a lot more to the panos than I originally thought, so this effort was doomed from the start. A rejection looks like this, and arrives a little less than a week after submission. You will get notified both on the Gigwalk app, as well as via email.

I had better luck with my second gig — hence this celebratory blog entry. It was for an establishment that no longer existed and had been replaced by another. This paid less than for regular gig, $2 instead of the usual $4.75 to $7, but it still made for good practice so I went ahead with it. The pano I took in the first gig were actually better than for this one. So when my first gig got rejected, I figured that the second gig would be rejected as well. But it turns out that acceptance criteria for closed businesses was less stringent and panos were not required. The acceptance notice appears below.

I still need practice. But with a paid-for gig under my belt . . . less Paypal’s $0.36 transaction fee . . . am now ready for more.

Aug 31, 2011

Tu Mero Mole @ Sunnyvale


One of the great disappointments of my trip to Mexico City last year was that I was never able to taste authentic Mole. The first time I tasted Mole was in California, and it tasted like pureed rust with vinegar. It was awful. The meals that my Mexican co-workers had me try during my stay blew me away, so I figured that I would give this infamously complicated dish another go. Sadly, I ran out of time.

Enter Tu Mero Mole in Sunnyvale CA. I can’t say definitively that their Mole Poblano tastes just the way the originals down south of the border do. But I would consider lining up for it.

Their branch at this location just opened this month, and am hoping it lasts longer than all the other establishments that have occupied this spot over the past few years.

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Filed under Mexican, US, California
Aug 25, 2011

Phones as boarding passes


My wife and I flew to my nephew’s wedding in New Jersey last month. While processing our online check-in, she noticed the mobile boarding pass option. Keen to try new things, she signed us up for it. I was new to this pass, and hadn’t read up on them by the time we got to the airport. So I walked up to the security line cold . . . not a particularly good idea.

I knew my wife emailed it to me, and that it involved a Quick Response (QR) code of some sort. So when the pre-screening attendant at the security line asked to see my pass I whipped out my iPhone  confidently . . . opened my email and looked for the code . . . and kept looking. I had to step out of the line to figure out what was going on.

Turns out the mail simply contained a link to the code. The image below on the left shows the email. Tapping on the the “Get mobile boarding document” opened a browser and voila . . . the boarding pass QR code appears. See image on the right.

At the San Francisco airport, I showed the code at three points: to the pre-screening attendant at the security line, to the TSA officer at the security line, and then finally at the departure gate. The latter two locations had code readers like this:

I usually switch my phone over to flight mode before boarding the plane. So as a precaution, I took a screen capture of my boarding pass before getting onboard. These are the images is used for this post.

The boarding pass is very convenient, and I intend to use it for my flights moving forward. But as with all things new, if you don’t take the time to figure out how it works before you use it . . . you will initially lose more time than you save.

Aug 12, 2011