Friday, December 26, 2014

China Trip: Shenzhen Happenings

Shezhen buildings from the hotel
First stop on this China trip after flying into Hong Kong was Shenzhen. This city is right across the river from Hong Kong and was essentially built for manufacturing. The city now consists of lots of housing and luxury shopping. This is one of the surprising things about China-the wealth. Despite being obviously very developing, there is a ton of opulence. Our hotel was attached to a luxury shopping center filled with all of the top international brands and seeing Ferraris, Bentleys and Porsches is very much common place. Even though the streets are still swept by older women with brooms.2
Cities and farms-Hong Kong from the Shenzhen side
While intended for the Christmas decorations, I found these signs all over the buffet pretty hilarious
Our major target in Shenzhen was the Foxconn facility here. I had a few projects going out of this facility and it was a good place to see most of the iPad production line. I can't say much about the factory but overall I was surprised by how normal it felt. Despite all of the negative press it felt pretty much like any factory I had been in. Not saying that factories are the best working conditions but nothing particularly stuck out at me. That was a really nice change from what I was expecting.

I lucked out and had most of the day on Sunday for myself (as opposed to traveling) so at the suggestion of the hotel concierge I took a taxi to Wutong mountain in Luohu. It's about a 30 minute drive by taxi out of the city and cost 50 RMB (about $7). Luohu is a suburb of Shenzhen but actually feels like a small town instead of just more city sprawl. Example: the housing complexes here are only 20 stories tall, not 40!

Once I got to the town there were mobs of people walking up the street and I was really curious what they were headed towards. Turns out they were headed to the gates of Wutong! 

Wutong entrance

This apparently a very large outdoors park in the Shenzhen area and draws groups of well dressed hikers from all over the region. The whole experience was pretty hilarious: thousands of people walking up a paved road to the top:

On the way up there were also shortcuts through the trees that groups would attempt to scramble up. Once I realized how long the hike would be on the road along I start following people up the hills. 

Wutong scramble
The entire hike people would say "hello" to me or ask to take my picture. I think that out of five thousand people I was the only white person, and the only blue eyes, and the only beard. I guess they thought I was famous or something. I snapped a few pictures with some of the people.

It was actually a really pretty hike with minimal smog and a tea house on top. It took me about 2 hours to get to the top and about the same amount of time down though I think I was moving considerably faster than the average pace.

Great, albeit smoggy, scenery
Getting a taxi back after the hike was a little more difficult since the town is pretty far out of the city. Luckily there was a taxi driver eating lunch in the town so I sat outside the restaurant and waited for him to finish. I took the taxi back to meet my team in Shenzhen at the Luohu Comercial City-Shenzhen's biggest fake market. 

It's a huge four story building filled with knock off crap. Any luxury brand you like you can find here. The prices start really steep but you can negotiate to about 10-25% of the initial price. I didn't have a lot of time so I put a watch in my targets (as I had forgotten to wear one this trip). I scored this awesome Bell & Ross:

It's already broken. Figures.

After Shezhen we flew to Xuzhou for some more vendor visits.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Night Pictures

Pretty happy with this picture of Shanghai I took.
I think some of my favorite pictures are taken at night. I especially love seeing the colors that you can barely see in the dark come out bright and full after a long exposure. I'm just learning what I'm doing with night photography but having a ton of fun playing with it. Here are some of the pictures I've been playing with.

The moon as seen through our telescope with the camera held up to the eye piece

Experimentation on the beach in SLO. Not sure why these came out so orange but the people on the beach with headlamps gave a cool effect

Exploring foreground options in SLO

Pretty good star shot, wish the foreground had been more focused

While I think the blur is a little much I really like how the long exposure smoothed out the water in this one.

Monday, December 22, 2014

China Trip: Getting There

I thought I might be able to post these updates from China but a little bit of internet censorship stopped any hopes of that. Flickr, Blogspot, Google, Gmail, Instagram, Facebook, etc are all completely inaccessible on internet in the country. I still had access on my phone (since I have a US sim) but the keyboard was a little cramped for my taste.

I just got back from 10 days in China with work. This was my first of many trips and I travelled with my manager and some other team members as a kind of meet-and-greet/learn-to-travel trip.

Given how much we are expected to travel (~100 days a year), Apple treats us very well. I used to poo-poo on business class and nice hotels: "what's the big deal?" "It's still a long plane ride." "A bed is a bed." etc etc.
Upstairs! Childhood dream!

While I'm still not converted for personal travel from a financial standpoint I'm a total convert to the high comfort business travel life.

We flew from San Francisco to Hong Kong on a United 747 in Business Class. I took a seat on the top floor because, HOLY CRAP TWO STORY JET! These seats are very nice! While the plane was definitely a little dated I cannot believe how much space I had. Here I am putting my feet up for takeoff:
My trusty Moots socks as well!


I got my Business Class bag which contained, I'm told, high quality hand lotion. I just used the toothpaste since I forgot mine at home. I requested a vegan meal ahead of the trip so I was a little disappointed when presented with yogurt as part of my entree. Luckily the main course, some kind of tofu curry, was definitely vegan and quite good. Not bad for 30,000 feet!

After dinner I fully reclined into a lay flat bed and slept for the rest of the flight (remember when I'm still on a plane?). Totally rad. When we landed in Hong Kong I was pretty well rested and we went straight to the hotel in Shenzhen where I passed out again.

The next day I woke up pretty much fully ready to go to work and tackle the day. I was so blown away by how little the flight took out of me. This may seem obvious but I was really pretty blown away by what a different travel experience I had, a pretty nice perk with all of the upcoming travel and pretty fun to try out a new way to travel.

My room at the Grand Hyatt Shenzhen

Next up: reports from Shenzhen and beyond.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

SLO Trip

I think I picked the right time to start at Apple; here is my schedule for my first two months:

  • Work 2 weeks
  • Thanksgiving week off
  • Work 1 week
  • Go to China for 1.5 weeks
  • Work 2 days
  • 2 1.5 Weeks off for Christmas

That's almost a 50% work ratio! After Christmas it's all hands on deck for a while so I'm working on enjoy the time while I have it.

Over the Thanksgiving week Katherine and I went down to San Luis Obispo (SLO-"you say slow if you're in the the know"). I interview here for a position during my job search and really loved the town. It's about 3 hrs south of The Valley and is a perfect little California town. Cal Poly is located in the town so it has a definite young college feel but a really nice downtown with shops and restaurants. The town is right at the base of a number of mountains and only about 20 minutes from the ocean. I think you can see why I liked it so much!

We got into down and went for an awesome bike ride. Now that we have our bikes back (and Katherine is into riding) we've been trying to get out more. We went down to beach and then headed up the coast and back along the highway. We even went down a little bit of a trail section that I had explored during my interview bike ride.

On the way down Katherine got a call about a job and needed to go in the next day so we had to cut out multi-day plan down to just one night. We brought out camping stuff and spent the night at Montana De Oro, a gorgeous state park right on the ocean. I always find staying in car campgrounds funny since our minimalist camping gear juxtaposes the RVs and big tents pretty well. It's a great, cheap way to spend a night in a great place though.

We went out to dinner in the town and then came back and took some star pictures. Ever since we got our DSLR, I've been having tons of fun playing with night shots (more on that in a future post).

The next morning, I went for a ride up HWY 1 and Katherine met me for a coffee and a breakfast. After that we too the scenic route all the way back which made for a gorgeous drive. I can't believe that this road was ever conceived and built, it's RIGHT ON THE WATER. Super cool and pretty.

Mission Peak Hike

A few weeks ago Katherine and I hiked Mission Peak. There are a ton of hikes around here and we decided we wanted to go after something on the East side of the bay to change things up a bit. The original plan was to hike Mt. Diablo which is the highest peak in the area, or the most prominent peak, or the most land viewing from the top peak, or something impressive. But...we slept in.

New plan: Mission Peak!

Mission is visible from most of South Bay and particularly obvious because of the transmission towers on the top. The start of the hike is actually from a local community college which does require paid parking-a slight bummer in the world of free free parking hikes.
The hiker highway

Busy summit, reminded us of the Franconia Ridge
We hiking at mid day on Saturday and it was PACKED. Even from the parking lot there you could see the line of people headed up the "hiker highway." People were also riding up (and down) and there were huge family groups. Katherine and I set a really good pace up and over took most people. The hike was mostly wide gravel double track but there were a few sections of of single track through the woods and the cow pastures.

Towards the top there were a few steeper parts but overall it was a pretty reasonable hike. We Strava'd the hike and got pretty close on a couple of segments without even trying. I think it would be really fun to go back and try to run the route, it's about 3 miles each way so a pretty good challenge if going for speed.
Cross eyed cow

The views from the top were really great, the Bay to one side and pretty empty mountains to the other. We're starting to know the area well enough to pick out landmarks from these views but we're still not able to locate our house.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Hey Cool! I work at Apple now!

So, the whole point of this move to California was a job with Apple. Something that I think I have been pretty quiet about so far so here is the summary.

I've started in my new position as a Manufacturing Design Engineer (MDE) for the iPad team. In this role I work with vendors to get production processes up and running for new product. Almost all of Apple's production is overseas so my communication is generally directed there via email but the position also involves a lot of travel...I'm China bound on December 10th!

It's pretty exciting to be working on all new products and seeing all of the challenges involved in making these parts. Apple's standards and incredibly high for their product, inside and out. Where a lot of companies might say that a scratch or blemish on an internal feature is fine, we are tasked with making sure that there are no blemishes anywhere.

Besides the job description, what is Apple like?

In my short time there, it's been a pretty incredible place to work. I have two offices I report to, one in Sunnyvale (only 1.5 miles from our house!) and the other in Cupertino, at the main campus. It is pretty awesome to walk around the buildings at 1 Infinite Loop and be a part of the company.

Coming from not owning any Apple product, I've been fully converted.  In my first week I got a Macbook Pro 15" (which I LOVE), an iPad Air (which I'm still not sure what to do with), an iPhone 5s (which is really nice but I really want a 6 now) and a 4s (China phone). Getting used to the OS has been a little difficult and I had to get an application called Hyperdock which simulates the Windows 7 Aero Snap feature since I couldn't work without it. I love the hardware though, especially as I start to learn about everything that goes into manufacturing it.

Free stuff aside, there are some great perks from the company. Firstly, our relocation was fully covered which has made this entire trip so easy and so much more feasible.

The food on campus is also, really really good! With tons of vegan options. There are at least 10 restaurants and each one has a large selection of made to order food. While it isn't free, it is very well priced ($4 burritos). One week I ate: veggie tempura with tendon sauce, tofu burrito, an asian tofu and quinoa bowl, and a vegan pizza with vegan cheese and meat! Packing a lunch seems like such a thing of the past with such quality food at such a good price.

There are also shuttles all across the area so I never need to drive or ride to work. I can walk to a shuttle stop from out house and get to work in 15 minutes.

Overall, though, working for the company just feels really cool. Everyone is really excited about the work they are doing and the products they are creating. It's a pretty exciting environment and I can't wait to grow in it!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Day In The City

On my last day of freedom, we decided to head into San Francisco ("The City" if you are a local) via the CalTrain. This is a nice commuter rail into the city that stops in all of the towns of the Bay area. It costs $14/person for a day pass and takes about 1.5 hours to get into the city (versus 1 hour without traffic if driving).

We didn't have much agenda so we planned to walk around and explore. Katherine has an interview in The City on Tuesday so we checked out what the walk would be like and made sure she knew where it would be.

We totally forgot it was Veteran's Day so a parade was a nice surprise!

Texting and driving!

We went down to check out the very crowded Ferry Terminal and managed to get some delicious donuts from Pebbles. Vegan too!

Without much to do we decided to take a ferry and see the bay. I had been to Sausalito before and figured any of the towns would be cool so we got tickets for the Larkspur boat. It was easier than trying to get to the bridge on foot and should have given us a view. We idled out of the dock and then both of were surprised at how fast the boat went. It was a full blown catamaran and we went fast! Really cool!

Foggy Golden Gate (classic)

Larkspur ended up being pretty small without much to do but they were doing a food truck day so we got a delicious "deconstructed Samosa" from Curry Up Now. Holy crap! So friggin' good!

Once we got back we did some shopping. I was on the hunt for some maroon/red jeans and Katherine wanted some wax cotton pants which we both agree as super bitchin.

Lots of walking and shopping and near meltdowns (from me) later and we arrived at Gracias Madre for a vegan Mexican dinner. Again, so good. Really light and simple Mexican food with tons of fresh flavors. I got Tamale which I really love and can't easily find on the East Coast and Katherine got veggie tacos.

After the train ride back I found the car battery totally dead. Guess who left the lights on. This guy! I'll have to get used to turning the lights off again as our Golf has the same system.

Overall, a great way to spend the day before starting work at Apple!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

We Have A House!

Our new place!
We don't really sit still well so we've been hard on the apartment search. We've been told about how we should relax and settle down but we really like apartment hunting, it's been really go for us to see the towns and options. Also, sitting around makes both of us go crazy.

Apple provides a relocation assistant whose job it is to find us apartments that meet our criteria and help get us settled into the area. We were told that since the market is so competitive we should go out and try to find some places on our own. I think in the end this meant that we stepped on the relocation's teams toes a bit.
ebay HQ: Just another day in the Valley
We found some pretty good places in our search. Rent here, by the way, is INSANE. A place comparable to our place in Portsmouth is at least $3,500! I guess it just comes with the area.

Our criteria was:

  • About a mile from some kind of a downtown
  • 2 bedrooms
  • 2 car garage (seems excessive but there aren't any basements here)
  • Not in a complex
  • Character is fine...wall-to-wall carpeting, not so much
  • 5 miles to Apple

Today our relocation assistant, David, drove us around in his way t
o fast BMW M5. It's a great car, no doubt, but he felt the need to put the pedal to the floor at every single green light. Katherine and I got pretty car sick. We went to a lot of places and most of them missed almost all of our criteria.

In the end we came down to two options.

Fancy pants Campbell
One in Campbell which was a gorgeous townhouse with a brand new kitchen, floors, appliances...THE WORKS. Both of us were kind of starstruck that we might be able to live in a place like that. It was a little above our price range but Campbell was a really cool town, kind of like Portsmouth as far as the restaurant scene. DOWNSIDE 8 miles to Apple which is getting a bit far for a daily, casual bike commute. Lots of compromises but it is FANCY.

Much more our level of fancyness (minimal)
The second was right near downtown Sunnyvale. Much more up our alley and much more like what we are used to: some character but not tacky. It was close to town, in a small neighborhood and had a great detached garage. It definitely didn't have all of the bells and whistles but it was considerably cheaper, closer to Apple, closer to a town and not quite so "fancy."

Even the Mini has a new home!
In the end we choose Sunnyvale and we're really excited! We're going to try and move in as soon as our stuff arrives which is hopefully by the end of next week! Sweet!