A year of running: 2016

Inspired by Mark Zuckerberg’s post about his personal challenge to run a mile a day in 2016 I wanted to give a try to do the same. For me running is the least unpleasant type of exercise and running outdoors can be really enjoying, especially in London’s great parks. I am not fond of running on treadmills (which turns out to have been used as a torture device in the past) and it requires more willpower than outdoor running. Here I would like to describe how a year of running went for me in 2016.

From around mid-2014 to Sept 2015 I was running non-regularly up to 5K (here and further the default measurement unit is km unless otherwise is specified) in Korea and Uzbekistan. 5K was my limit at that time, or at least I thought so. After arriving at London on Sept 2015 I was amazed at huge parks and I started running in one of them, in Regent’s Park in my early days in London. Once a friend of mine challenged me to do 10K, and it turned out that it was not that hard, and it was just mental block that prevented me going over 5K. After that I started doing 10K regularly until the end of 2015 when I felt discomfort on my knees. And after trying a few more such runs that discomfort turned into painful feeling and I decided to see a doctor before continuing my running practice. “Thanks” to NHS (National Health System in the UK) it took over 3 months from going to GP to seeing a doctor in the hospital (GP -> x-ray -> GP -> referral to hospital -> wait …. -> hospital) and by that time I saw a doctor knee problems went away.

Basically I started a year of running in April 2016 when I recovered from knee injury, so I had to catch up a lot. As you can see below there were empty bars on Feb and Mar, and most of Jan of 2016:

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Monthly running distances

I ran around 10K once a week (every weekend) and with that pace by Sept 2016 I found that I had to run over 20K to reach the goal of running 365 miles a year. To accommodate 10K more each week I had to either run 20K in a weekend day or run another 10K during week days both of which were not possible at that moment. Then I had to face the reality and changed the goal of running 365 miles a year to 365 km a year which was more realistic.

At some point I became comfortable running 10Ks and I wanted to try increasing the distance. On some days I tried 13K to 15K and found that it is still possible to do that. Then I wanted to challenge myself and signed up for a half-marathon (21K) that was about to happen on November.

Half-marathon, as expected, was a lot harder than my regular distances. I participated in Grand Union Canal Half-Marathon which stretched along the canal as the name suggests. The scenery along the canal was beautiful, the area was far from city life, and it was a pleasant day (sunny, +10C), i.e. it had everything to make the run enjoyable. The first 10 to 15K was really enjoyable and passed with ease. The good thing about running in such kind of events as opposed to running alone or just with a friend is that you feel adrenaline and a sense of competition (in a good way) that makes you run faster than usual pace. In every 5K there was a table with glasses of water, which was very convenient. And by 15K I start feeling energy drain and the checkpoint at 15K had a bowl of jelly. Having some jelly gave necessary glucose, the energy I needed to complete the rest of the distance. The last 2-3K were the hardest, you know you are close but still some distance left. And there was a relief and a sense of accomplishment when I reached the finish line. The pleasant part was that for every participant crossing the finish line there was a person shouting his/her name via loudspeaker.

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Beautiful scenery

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Medal as a nice reminder of accomplishment

Running is a good way to explore new places and whenever I travelled somewhere I did some running there. There was a interesting moment when I went for running in Seattle. I checked in the map in which direction I would run and followed that path. And it turned out that some part of the path lies through steep lands where it was hard to just climb and running up was not physically possible. So the map only shows direction but not elevation which is very crucial for estimating running distance.

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Warsaw, Poland

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Ossa, Poland

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Paris

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London

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Nukus, Uzbekistan

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Palo Alto, CA

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Seattle, WA

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Seoul, Korea

Finally on December 26th I ran 13+ km in Seoul and that completed my 365km in a year. Here is the graph showing cumulative running distance per year:screen-shot-2017-01-03-at-12-04-48-am

In 2017 I would like to try a few more half-marathon and then prepare for full marathon. Hopefully my knees will not object to these plans.

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“Guns, Germs and Steel” by Jared Diamond

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Recently I read an interesting book about history of human societies called “Guns, Germs and Steel”. The book tries to answer the following questions: “Why some societies ended up being more successful than others? Why, for example, Europeans from XVI century onwards invaded and replaced Native Americans, Aborigen Australians and not vice versa? Was it difference in people themselves or were there some other factors?”. And the short answer is environmental factors played huge role in giving some societies early head start and there was no evidence that some people’s characteristics were better than others.

The first and main factor that gave some societies more power than others was the rise of farming. Plant and animal domestication started in each continent at different periods (and did not start at all in some). It first started in the area that is now referred as Fertile Crescent which lays in current Middle East around 8500BC. It was followed by China in 7500BC, and these two areas can be regarded as the earliest sites for the onset of farming. However, it took 5000 more years for Native Americans to start domestication where they started around 3500BC. How societies with farming had more power over non-farmers, i.e. hunter-gatherers? The answer is that farming allowed humans to acquire more food than they can consume, so they had surplus. And that surplus resulted in population boom, because farmers led sedentary lifestyle as opposed to hunter-gatherers, therefore shortening birth cycles and there was more food available for more people. Moreover, that surplus allowed to have some people doing other job than farming, like craftsmen, bureaucracy, kings, soldiers, which resulted in more complex societies. Such societies could easily replace or drive out hunter-gatherers by both numbers and their technology.

Then why farming started in Eurasia first, and 5000 years later in America even though they both have similar Mediterranean like climate? Among all wild plants growing in the planet, only tiny fraction is edible. And not all edible plants can be domesticated. And from those which can be domesticated, the efficiency (calories per area of farming) differs greatly among each other. It turns out that Fertile Crescent had wild plants that could be easily domesticated and that gave more calories per given area than other continents. Fertile Crescent domesticated wheat, barley, peas, while China domesticated millet, rice, soybean. America did not have such wild productive plants, and people there domesticated corn, and some type of beans thousands of years later.

Similarly, animals were much more successfully domesticated in Eurasia compared to both America and Africa. Major five animals that were domesticated in Eurasia are sheep, goat, cow, pig, horse. In America only llama was domesticated and it did not became as widespread as major five animals in Eurasia. Surprisingly, in Africa none of animals were successfully domesticated, especially considering the fact that nowadays the most diverse animals live in Africa. It turns out that wild animals should have a set of certain characteristics to be successfully domesticated. And African mammals did not meet those requirements, but major five of Eurasia did.

Another factor that played role in quick spread of food production, inventions, writing in the continent is its orientation of its axes. America and Africa mainly stretches from North to South, thereby having North-South axis. In contrast, Eurasia has mainly East-West axis. How does it relate to spread of technologies? Related with food production, it appeared first in Fertile Crescent (8500BC) and then spread both east towards Central Asia, Indus Valley (6500BC) and west to North Africa, Europe (5400BC) quickly, mainly because it is easier to grow similar crops in similar climate zones. However, it took a much longer for Mexican crops such as corn and beans (3500BC) to spread north to eastern US (900AD), which has much smaller distance than between Fertile Crescent and Europe. In case of America there were environmental obstacles as well, such as Mexican desert and narrowness of Panama.

One more factor in determining the power of societies was, *surprise*, germs. As humans adopted farming and started living close to its waste and livestock, it was a perfect ground for development of germs. The germs from which nowadays every child get vaccinated, such as smallpox, flu, tuberculosis, malaria, cholera are all originated from animals and passed to people living close to those animals. Over thousands of years people in Eurasia got immune to these diseases, but for other people who never had these germs, it was lethal. For example, after Europeans started conquest in America in XV century 95% indigenous people of America died from germs brought by Europeans. It is astonishing fact that Europeans conquered most Native Americans mostly by germs rather than with the guns or other technology.

All these factors together played major role in dominance of some societies and disappearance or assimilation of others. Those who had early start in farming eventually developed kingdoms, guns, steel and conquered/replaced other societies.

I found so many interesting things in this book that I can highly recommend it to everyone. It is not another boring history book with plain history facts, but this takes systematic approach from very early hunter-gatherer times to modern ages.

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1984 by George Orwell

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Recently I read George Orwell’s famous novel – 1984. In it he describes a utopian totalitarian society where party controls everything, such things like past events, the thoughts of its citizens. He completed writing this book in 1949 and the novel was supposed to draw parallels with Soviet Communism by that time. The title of novel came from the idea that if things were to continue as it was at that time, by 1984 totalitarian communism will come to such point as described in the book.

The events described in the plot happen in London. By that time the world is divided into three superstates: Oceania, Eastasia and Eurasia. Britain is part of Oceania and now called Airstrip One. The political systems and ideology in all three states are more or less same. Oceania is involved in continuous wars either with Eastasia or Eurasia. The society in Oceania is composed of Big Brother on the top, Inner Party members, Outer Party members and proles (пролетариат) who make 85% of population. There are four ministries, names of which means opposite to what they do: Ministry of Truth – main job of which is lying to population, Ministry of Plenty – makes resources deliberately scarce, Ministry of Love – deals with tortures, and Ministry of Peace – deals with wars. Party devised a new language called Newspeak by oversimplifying traditional English (like instead of good/bad, using good/ungood, cold – unwarm, good/better/best – good/plusgood/doubleplusgood). That was meant to make citizen even dumber (it is hard to express complex thoughts when you have very limited vocabulary) and better control them. There was another means of controlling people called telescreen. It is a technology that can transmit audio/video information in both directions. It was used by party to obsessively control the lives and even thoughts of citizen.

Main character of the book is a man named Winston Smith, a member of Outer party, who works in Ministry of Truth. His main job in that Ministry is to literally rewrite history, i.e. change the names of people in past newspapers, journals, books as if that person never existed or change the economic numbers in all past media press as directed by party. He is conscious enough to recognise that something wrong with this regime. He starts writing diary to express his thoughts in writing. He hides this act as it is prohibited to write diaries. It was prohibited to do anything unorthodox. Even thinking unorthodox was considered as thought crime and persecuted by Thought Police. Children were taught to check parents whether they behave unusual, think unusual and if so, report to Thought Police.

He secretly hates Party and wonders whether there was any group of people who think like him. Eventually he finds another party member O’Brien whom he considers as a like-minded person. And one day they meet and discuss about this and O’Brien tells him that secret underground resistance group against party indeed exists. O’Brien handles him a book called The Theory and Practice of Oligarchical Collectivism which described how the society worked in reality and how party members were able to retain power for unlimited time. Then Winston is caught by Thought Police and O’Brien just pretended to be a member of resistance. O’Brien tortures him to the point when Winston starts loving Big Brother.

 

There are several interesting points in this book:

  • While it may seem that this is just fiction, a lot of things were influenced by real events, mostly by Stalinist regime in USSR. You can find such events following this link in wikipedia
  • We can find some methods of total control described in the book even in our days. Take, for example, Prism program by the US (famously leaked by Edward Snowden) that did (or could do) similar surveillance on people just with different medium (internet vs. telescreen)
  • The description of the political system is quite similar to the one, I imagine, in North Korea
  • You can find other parallels if you notice.

I can highly recommend reading this book and I really liked it.

 

 

 

 

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The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

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Recently I finished reading the book I was planning to read quite a long time ago. The book titled “The Kite Runner” tells a story of Amir, Pashtun boy who spend his childhood in Afghanistan, then migrate to the US when the war with Soviets broke out and finally visiting Afghanistan again during Taliban’s regime.

The story starts with describing main character’s childhood in pre-Soviet era Afghanistan. Amir and his servant Hassan grew up together in the same house and are best friends. Their childhood was just normal childhood anyone could expect, they spend most of their time together playing, telling stories, running kites. And one day bad incident happens with Hassan and even though Amir was there he did not have courage to help Hassan. Amir could not forgive himself that betrayal for the most part of his life and distances himself from Hassan eventually separating them forever. Then the war broke out and under terrible conditions Amir managed to escape Afghanistan to Pakistan then migrate to the US with his father. Then they slowly adapt to new country and in a few years his father passes away due to cancer. A bit before that he marries Afghan girl who had also migrated to the US during Soviet war. After decade or so Amir was contacted by his father’s best friend Rakhim Khan and he urged Amir to go to Afghanistan to escape Hassan’s son. Book describes terrible conditions of Afghanistan after the Soviet war and later Taliban regime with the eye of Amir. By risking his life and near death experience he manages to escape Hassan’s son and bring him back to the US.

There were a few interesting points in this book for me:

  • Even though this is a fiction, but it describes real situation in Afghanistan. One can learn how Afghanistan looked like before Soviet war (it was pretty modern state with king’s ruling), and how Soviet’s destroyed the state, and later how awful was the ruling of Talibans.
  • I found particularly interesting that the Pashtun’s native language (Pashto) has lots of similar words to two languages belonging to Turkish group that I know: Karakalpak and Uzbek languages, like “naan”, “saratan”, “sher jangi”, “chapandaz”, “watan”, “quwat”, “tashakor”, “chapan”, “shorawi”, “ahmaq”, “namoos”, “moalem”, “ghazal”, “ihtiram”, “nika”, “shorwa”, “samosa”, “tashweesh”, “bichara”, “sabagh”.

I would recommend this book with fascinating plot and you can have more insight about Afghanistan from the eye of narrator.

 

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Eurotrip. Madrid. Ins and outs of Estadio Santiago Bernabéu

While I was in Madrid, I had a chance to visit one of the most popular touristic spots in the town – Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, home of Real Madrid CF. I not only visited the stadium, but attended one of La Liga matches of Real Madrid vs. Getafe. I booked the ticket way ahead of the match (using viagogo) so that I could be sure that I can get a ticket at good spot (and I got it). It was the last match of 2014-2015 La Liga season, and I was initially afraid that due to unimportance of this match from final scoreboard perspective it could be boring. However, my such concern turned out to be groundless after I finished watching the match. For such superclubs as Real Madrid an unimportant match should not exist, and visitors could see all the strongest players in the pitch.

Here is how the stadium looks from outside:

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And there is a metro station with the same name near the stadium:

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I arrived at the stadium way earlier than the start of the match. Unlike me, some people got their tickets on the day of the match:DSC01328

As I had abundant free time, I looked around and found Real Madrid’s official store attached to the stadium:

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You can find T-shirts of any Real Madrid player. I could not resist the temptation of buying one 🙂

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The store has large posters depicting the greatest moments in Real Madrid’s history. And here is the famous one. If you don’t know in which match this Zidane’s incredible shoot happened, then there is nothing I can talk with you about football:

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At some point when I was seeing around the store, the store officers told us that it is closing now and will reopen after 15 minutes. I was wondering what was the matter. It turns out that at that moment the bus with players were supposed to pass nearby the store to enter the stadium. And all security measures were taken to make that step safe for players. They blocked the roads for around 30 minutes until the bus passed. The security measures taken there was similar to the ones when the president of the state passes some streets. The players indeed have so much popularity that they need to be protected like presidents:

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At last the blockade was released, and I went to some shop to buy water. There was still some time left until the start, and why not take a selfie in the meantime:

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I bought a 1L plastic bottle of water and while entering the stadium, I found that the security officers were checking bags of visitors whether there was a bottle with a liquid. For bottles up to 0.5L they take it, open the cap, throw the cap to trash and give the bottle back. That was interesting observation, I was wondering why they do that. Then I guessed that as the visitors sit very near to the pitch, some inadequate fans may throw bottle with liquid to some player. Taking the cap away dramatically reduces the probability of harming players, as you cannot throw bottle without cap to long distance.

Unfortunately they did not do that procedure in my case, but they just throw the whole bottle to trash, as it turns out that the allowed max capacity of bottles is 0.5L.

The view of the stadium was gorgeous, it was a huge stadium with three stacks, one above another. What’s good about such stacking is that the visitors in the top stack can still have very good view. Another thing that I experienced there was that this was the first time I visited a stadium that is purely designed for football. By this I mean that it is not like Olympic stadium with running lanes (like Luzhniki in Moscow or Olympicstadium in Berlin), where there will be more distance from visitor to players. Here is the panoramic view:

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And I asked one guy to take a picture of me with the background of the stadium. You can notice that it is still early, as the most spots are vacant:

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First, goalkeepers came to pitch for warming up. Here you can see Casillas:

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And he continues training making the audience applaud when he saves even though this is just training:

Players are warming up before the match. This guy in the front will be main hero in this match 🙂

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Match is about to begin:

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James starting the attack:

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Pass by Marcelo:

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Promising attack in action:

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The famous pose of famous player before shooting the free kick:

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Accelerate:

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And shoot:

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And the rest is history, you know what could happen after that:

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Now penalty kick, again Ronaldo preparing for it:

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And here is the video of what happened after that moment:

Stadium is nearly full, you can see here stewards sitting with their back to the pitch. Their task is to make sure fans do not run to the pitch or throw something to the pitch. You can see that there is no fence that could limit visitors to enter the pitch, therefore stewards do the job of fencing. It should be quite hard job, because they come to the stadium and do not see the match 🙂

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Another prospective attack:

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Ronaldo and Varane doing same gesture at the same time, what could it mean? 🙂

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First half is finished with the score 3-3:

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The things that you don’t see when watching football matches on TV – people cleaning up the pitches, flattening the surface in the break time:

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Hat-trick author was left the pitch under applause and very young promising player from Norway, Odegaard replaced him:

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In the second half, Real Madrid could score four goals while not letting Getafe score any goal.

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Marcelo and James are looking at the electronic table and maybe they already got confused how many goals their team scored:

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Well, not everything is ideal here, people left sunflower seeds remainings and some left plastic bottle. Lots of work for the people who cleans up these places for the next match:

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Huge crowd leaving the stadium:

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And the outside view of Santiago Bernabeu at night is beautiful:

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Trip to Palo Alto and vicinity. Part III. Google and Facebook campuses

It would have been sin to come to Silicon Valley and not visit the campuses of tech giants – Google and Facebook. I wanted to visit Apple’s campus as well, however, due to time limitation I could visit only two former ones.

My first stop was Google’s campus located in Mountain View, not far from Palo Alto where I was staying. If you watched the movie “Internship”, the places in these pictures might be very familiar to you. Here is the main set of buildings called GooglePlex:

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There is a volleyball sand field on the right side of dinosaur:

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The boundaries between working and resting are vague. We can see some people here, not sure, whether they are working or taking a break:

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The only person I knew who was working there was Nodir Turakulov. He was kind enough to allocate time and do a tour for me inside GooglePlex buildings. He showed me hangout-powered meeting rooms, snackbar, microkitchen, Google store, gym and other facilities. Not to distract people who were working there I did not take any pictures from inside.

Famous Google-colored bikes. I rode one of them to get to the droids:

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Special car used for Google’s Street View product with mounted camera on top:

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Android is Google’s mobile platform that took 81% smartphone market share in 2014 [source]. Its versions are named after desserts and they are ordered alphabetically. One can find models of these desserts in the campus.

Cupcake (version 1.4):

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Donut (version 1.6):

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Eclair (version 2.0 – 2.1):

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Froyo (version 2.2):

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Gingerbread (version 2.3):

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Honeycomb (version 3.0 – 3.2):

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Ice cream sandwich (version 4.0):

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Jellybean (version 4.1 – 4.3):

IMG_20150205_155754Kitkat (version 4.4):

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Lollipop (version 5.0 – 5.1):

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Me and droid with lollipop:

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And my second stop was Facebook’s campus located in Menlo Park, not far from Palo Alto. It was a raining day when I visited the campus and I could not take many pictures because of that.

Famous hand gesture symbolising Facebook:

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Street name is not ordinary, it reflects the culture of the company 🙂

All interesting things in Facebook are inside the closed set of buildings. Outer part of the campus is dedicated for parking spot.

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Electric cars are more than welcome in the campus:

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The time spent visiting these campuses were indeed worthwhile.

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Trip to Palo Alto and vicinity. Part II. San Francisco

After landing at San Francisco International Airport and before arriving at the hotel in Palo Alto, I decided to see around San Francisco. The first transportation I used after leaving airport was their subway system called BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit):

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It was not as crowded as subway systems in big cities like Seoul. I used Google Maps to get to the destination, Golden Gate Bridge. Google Maps showed that I needed to get off BART at “Civic Center” station and take bus from there. Instead of just blindly following its directions, I decided to take a walk and look around that area:

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Tram and trolley-bus:

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UN Plaza building:

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Lots of birds near the fountain of UN Plaza:

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IMG_20150204_121728 I walked through Market Street and saw some monuments on the way:

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And I reached San Francisco City Hall, which was under construction at that time:

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The dome of City Hall building reminded me the architectural style of Thailand:

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After walking around this area, I resumed my trip to the destination, Golden Gate Bridge. First I checked the bus that goes to the destination through Google Maps, and waited for that bus. After around 20 minutes of waiting, I gave up and decided to take a cab instead. At that time I thought of giving a try to the new advanced taxi system that I had heard before, but never used yet – Uber. I found using Uber super-convenient. After choosing destination in Google Maps, one needs to press only ‘request Uber’ button, and one of nearest Uber-registered drivers pick you up. For the rest of my California trip, I used Uber many times. I liked the automatic charging system, i.e. while you get off there is no physical money transaction. Moreover, Uber is generally cheaper than normal cabs due to economics of scale.

Finally I reached the hallmark of San Francisco – Golden Gate Bridge. It was a cloudy day so the top of second column of the bridge was barely visible:

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Sample cut of main cable holding the bridge:

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There was a specially designed place for taking shots with the bridge background. I could not pass by not doing so 🙂

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If we turn right, we can see some small island and it is the famous island-prison “Alcatraz” where Al Capone was held. Now it is used as museum:

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It was lunch time when I was done seeing around the bridge, and I looked a place to eat. Google Maps showed zero restaurants in the walking distance, so I took a bus to go to farther one. When I was getting off, I was handing 10$ bill (bus fare was around 2$) to the bus driver. Driver said that he does not have changes, and I told that I don’t have bills with smaller value. Then he said it’s OK, and as a result I took bus for free 🙂

I arrived at some small neighborhood:

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Automatic payment system for parking:

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On the way to Caltrain Station I saw another bridge – Bay Bridge that connects San Francisco with Oakland:

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One of ways to get to Palo Alto was to take Caltrain. Caltrain is a commuter train that connects San Francisco with San Jose, and stops at many small cities in the Silicon Valley. Train cars have two floors:

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On the way to Palo Alto I could see typical streets that we could usually see in the American movies:

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And at last, I arrived at Palo Alto Station:

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One of the specifics in California that I noticed was that there were many electric cars and there are dedicated space for such cars in many parking spots. Those spots have charging stations. It is mind blowing how charging facility of electric cars takes such a small space compared gas stations.

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A few days later I visited San Francisco again to see my friend who works there. Here is the downtown of San Francisco at night:

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It was surprising that this type of transportation, called Cable car, still functions in the city. They keep it for its historical value despite being quite inefficient in terms of energy consumption:

IMG_20150206_210205 And here is how it changes the lines when it reaches the final stop:

I found San Francisco definitely worth place to visit if you happen to come to California.

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