Saturday, May 28, 2011

From Logan to San Jose to Tesla, and then some

     So everyone's been doing this blog thing lately. I've been considering it for quite some time now, but I'm always too lazy or too busy to do so. Usually some combination of the two, to be honest. But summer has started and for the first time I can really think of, I have things to write about and time to write about them. Or so I think. You may decide otherwise. In which case, I invite you to read something more interesting.. Like a blog about food or something.

     In any case, I suppose a brief review is in order for you folks from Jersey who might be reading this and haven't heard from me in a year. Junior year at MIT is finally over with, and having spent the last semester perpetually pissed off with the gratuitous amount of busy work my classes were giving me, along with a few of my hall mates, I was kinda anxious to really get away from the 'tvte for the first time since I got there almost three years ago. Luckily, I'm working for Tesla this summer. Unfortunately, that means I'm in California.

     I have firmly sworn to myself that I will not become one of those crazy California lovers who swears that California is the best place in the world. That said, it's certainly not the worst place in the world. I suppose my views on this place will become more apparent as I go. So I'll do just that. Go.

     To be fair, I've been trying to make this post since Monday night. So I've got a bit of a backlog. All of last week, I was attempting to finish up my UROP with the Bioinstrumentation lab, and wound up working about 35 hours on it, along with studying for and taking a final, plus worrying about the rest of my life. I didn't really start packing my room up until Friday afternoon. My flight was Saturday at 4:40 pm. Clearly not a lot of foresight or planning going on here. So, with the help (more specifically, management) of Marie, I spent the next 24 hours packing up the room I've been living in for two years, as well as everything I 'need' in California. After renting a uhaul van to get my large boxes of computer parts and thermofluids notes (about equal in both volume and weight to one another) to the UPS store, and getting a final reminder of why driving in Boston on a Saturday afternoon sucks, I went off to the airport to catch my flight.

     Being a poor college student and all, I got the cheapest flight to San Jose that I could. Which meant flying from Logan to Houston to San Jose. A total of about 10 hours of travel. Joy. At the airport, I saw about four other MIT students whom I recognized. One of them was a friend I had made during my visit to the 'tvte for CPW. I hadn't talked to her much since, but she was on my flight. This was just the first of many events which would make this world seem too goddamn small.

     Anyway, Logan to Houston was pretty great. If you're not aware, I love flying. I was obsessed with airplanes as a kid (despite my fears that one would come crashing through my bedroom window late at night), and the first time I was ever actually in a plane, I was flying it. That, in addition to being an engineer, leads me to believe that I had the best seat in the house on the first leg of my journey: window seat with a perfect view of the engine and the ground below. I felt like a little kid on a roller coaster, waiting to get launched into the air. Despite it being the first gorgeous day in weeks, Logan had a thick layer of fog covering it. So when we took off, I could see the streamlines over the engine and wing illustrated quite well by the thick air. I wish I had a picture. Needless to say, we punched through the fog fairly quickly and went on our merry way. Out of my window, I got my first birds-eye view of MIT, and despite being sick of the place, I already missed it a bit.

     And then I passed out for a few hours. Turns out I hadn't really slept the night before, so I could fall asleep just about anywhere. I woke up over Texas. It's the wrong color. Too much green, not enough desert color. That's about all there is to say about that place. That, and the Houston airport sucks. Absolutely no wifi. They did have a Jamba Juice though, which I promptly indulged in for the first time. It's got some serious addiction potential. So I put off starting this blog until I had some wifi, and stood in line waiting to board instead.

     I had reserved another window seat for this flight. Again, like a kid on a roller coaster, I had the "let's go again!" mentality while boarding, only to find that a Vietnamese woman had taken my seat. She was polite and asked (via hand gestures and broken English) if she could please sit there. I let her have the seat, and figured I'd still get to gaze out the window from one seat in. I was wrong. This woman sat there with the freaking shade closed the whole time. From take off to landing. I was so pissed. Why would you take the window seat from me if you're not even going to look out the window?? Seriously, what the hell? So instead, I read a bit of James May's "Magnificent Machines" and listened to some music while occasionally entertaining the incredibly polite old Texan woman next to me with small talk. The only real highlight of this flight (my window gazing having been unjustly taken from me) was the DirectTV. Not that I was willing to dish out $7 to watch crappy television. It was more that while listening to Chrome, I looked up to see someone in first class watching a documentary of sorts about FIRST. It made me pretty nostalgic for a second.

     So I finally arrived in San Jose and called Jason, who has been kind enough to give me a place to crash while I find actual housing. He picked me up, and my first question was, "Where's the nearest In-N-Out?" So we went to In-N-Out (which, incidentally, is actually worth all the hype). At this point, California seemed a lot like New Jersey. Lots of highways, suburban sprawl, and fast food. What's more, I walked into In-N-Out and was convinced that I saw Yazan, a fellow MIT student an Tesla intern. Turns out that it was him. Could this world get any smaller? Yes. It can.

     We arrived at Jason's place, where I expected to crash on a couch/floor. Imagine my surprise when I found out that he lives with his brother in a 3 bed, 3 bath condo-type-thing. It's worth mentioning that Jason is awesome for accommodating me on such short notice. So I passed out and decided to spend the next day exploring the area.

     And so I did. Kinda. Turns out that getting around California without a car is a pain in the ass. It's one of my bigger qualms about this place. Though I suppose it's true for a lot of places. Jason lives about 25 minutes from the Mountain View Caltrain station, by foot. This involves walking to a nice little "trail" (I'll have you know that California is the only state that would call a nicely paved sidewalk in between the trees behind some houses a "trail). The neighborhood is nothing overwhelming: quiet, reasonably sized houses of varying styles with cookie-cutter-condos interjected at various intervals. However, I noticed a trend in the vehicles parked on the street and in driveways. Everyone seems to own both a massive pick-up truck, BMW, or an old-school Porsche, AND a Prius. It's kinda like when we used to exercise and go to McDonald's afterwards to negate any positive effects. I even saw a 1960's pick-up with a bumper-sticker reading "I'd rather be driving an EV". It's either one extreme or the other, I suppose. California is similar to the Prius in that sense: it's not inherently bad, but I still think it's really dumb.

     So after walking through the neighborhood, I finally get to the "trail" entrance. How pleasant. A little playground.
Wait, what's that behind it?

O, just a diesel generator

And some high tension power lines without a fence around them

And a sketchy tunnel under the highway, perfect for kidnapping.

It's worth mentioning that it's a pretty safe neighborhood, but still.. I walked out into the playground the other day and saw a bunch of tattooed teenagers smoking what must have been "medicinal" marijuana on the park bench. I guess if everything gives you cancer in California, they probably needed it...

Come on California. Look at yourself.

So the walk continues. Eventually you get to a foot bridge over yet another highway. And next to some more transmission lines.

And then another California moment. A bicycle speed limit sign. Protip: if you can ride a bicycle, you should be able to tell if you're going too fast.
Am I the only one who thinks this is dumb?

     Back to the story (or the vague semblance of one). So I made this walk and took Caltrain over to Palo Alto, since there was apparently a Maker Faire and my friend Paul (who I worked with on EVT two summers ago and incidentally got me the connection at Tesla last summer) works on the Stanford solar car team, which was supposedly there. So I got off the train and walked to Stanford. I've never seen so much wasted space. Their driveway is literally a mile long. It's ridiculous. So I attempted to call Paul and got no response. I wandered around campus looking for the Maker Faire (had I done my research I would have known that it wasn't there), and after two hours of finding nothing worth mentioning (well, except that the squirrels are the wrong color. They should be gray, not black. Somebody forgot to tell California this), I gave Jon (a bitter old Beast cruft now studying at Stanford) a call. He greeted me with a handshake and a beer. After questioning his decision to give me a beer in such a public place, he informed me of the open-container policy at Stanford. Apparently it's perfectly acceptable. A ten-year old could walk around with a handle of Jack Daniels and nobody would question it. That's cool, I guess.

     We grabbed a bite to eat at some Mexican-ish place and talked for a while. I caught the Caltrain back to Mountain View and called it a day. Work started early the next day.

     Monday was when things got way more interesting than I would have liked. Having to be at work at 8:30, I got up about two hours beforehand to shower, get to Caltrain, and take the shuttle to Tesla. After showering, I discovered that I had misinterpreted the shuttle schedule, and in order to get to work on time, I had to leave half an hour earlier. So I made the 25 minute walk in 10, only to find out that the train was 15 minutes late. So I went to buy a ticket, opening my wallet to realize that I did not have my checking card: I must have left it at the Mexican-ish place, possibly throwing it out by mistake. I also realized that in my rush to get to the station, I had forgotten all of the documents that I needed on my first day. It was too late to go back at that point.

     The train finally arrived, I took it over to Palo Alto, and attempted to find the shuttle to Deer Creek/Tesla. Turns out that it only waits 5 minutes, even if there's no train to provide passengers. Luckily, while near another bus and frantically trying to figure out how to make the 20 minute drive, I overheard a woman mention that she needed to get to VMWare: conveniently located across the street from Tesla. Glad I looked on Google Earth prior to making my trip. So I asked this woman for help, and she basically let me tag along with her while she found a shuttle I had never heard of before. She also gave me the schedule for said shuttle. If only I had caught her name. If it weren't for her, I would have been an hour late on my first day.

     So the first day was interesting, to say the least. I won't bother describing Tesla as a company at this point. Prior to lunch, however, all the new hires got rides in the Tesla Roadster. This was actually my second time in one, so the effects were not as pronounced, but it's certainly a fun ride. While waiting for my turn, however, I was chatting with a Bay Area local who goes to UC Berkley. First, he mentioned how "cold" it was that day. HA. Cold does not mean the same thing in California as it does in Boston, apparently. And then he mentioned how terrible the road quality is in the Bay Area. I don't think these people have seen a real pothole in their lives. They pretty much all look like this one:
 Or this one:
Geez, what terrible roads. I don't know how people don't constantly crash their Prii into trees after driving through those massive ruts in the road. Maybe they just drive their lifted trucks instead, so they just run over the trees.

     So after sitting through an entire day of presentations, I finally went home, cancelled my checking card, and sat on my ass for the rest of the evening. It's nice finally having the ability to do that. The sitting on my ass and doing nothing part, I mean. The next few days were fairly uneventful. I mostly just ran into people from MIT (including certain unipunts) on various forms of public transit and got very annoyed by the fact that between going to work and eating dinner, I'd spend about two hours a day walking to and from downtown Mountain View, and about an hour and a half on public transit. Since then, my commute has come down to 45 minutes from doorstep to office (as Tesla operates a free shuttle from Mountain View), rather than 65 minutes. Still, it's only an 18 minute drive if I had a car.

     This whole transportation thing really came to a head when I decided to finally get some cash on Wednesday. This involved going to Walmart and buying something with my credit card so I could do that whole cash-back thing at the register. So I went, making the 25 minute walk to Caltrain, taking the train for 5 minutes to San Antonio, and walking 10 minutes to Walmart (in all, a 10 minute drive). Next to Walmart, I found this place:
... 'Nuff said.

So I bought a flashlight at Walmart, got my cash-back, and went to look for some food. Amongst all the cars in the parking lot, I stumbled across this guy:
Probably stuck out because it only had six characters, and not the seven which California plates have. I wonder what the chances are that some MIT student drove their Saturn across the country for the summer. It wouldn't surprise me, considering I've already run into so many MIT kids while just going about my day.
     I went on, got some food, and proceeded walked back to the Caltrain station. Upon arrival, I noticed that I had missed the train by about two minutes. And the next one wasn't coming for another hour. So my return time went from forty minutes to an hour an forty minutes. I suppose I could have just made the seventy minute walk back instead, and it would have worked out better. But it would have sucked. Just like public transit in the Bay Area. So instead, I started dicking around with my second-hand point-and-shoot camera. This pretty much sums up the excitement of waiting for an hour on an empty platform:
Exciting, I know.

     Finally, the train arrived, I rode it for five minutes, and then got off and watched it go.
I walked home in the dark, utilizing my new flashlight for fun as I wandered through the woods. It was probably a good decision to buy a flashlight, for as I was walking through the woods, I pointed it off the path and noticed a a bushy black animal running off with its tail raised. Note to self: there are skunks in this neighborhood. That flashlight saved me from a very smelly week.

     Thursday evening, Jason invited me over to the Google headquarters for dinner and a short tour. Maybe I should have been a software engineer. The Google campus is fairly large, with random dinosaur skeletons, busts of famous ocean explorers, and other random artwork/nonsense. The thing of interest at the time was Google's many "cafes". Apparently there are twenty-two of them which serve lunch every day of the week, and six of them which serve breakfast, and six for dinner. All free of charge to Google employees and their guests. And they serve real food. One of the lunch menus even had a lamb dish on it. Tesla's free cereal and coffee has nothing on Google. And then there's where the actual work happens. The office buildings feel a lot CSAIL at MIT. There's a lot of color, and everywhere you look, there are odd toys, giant Google Earth 300 degree viewers, photographs of world leaders giving talks at Google, and so on. Seems like a fun place to work. And the hours a pretty flexible. Maybe I should reconsider my career in MechE... Nahhh.

     At last, my week came to a close, having spent most of it at work, learning the ins-and-outs of the lab I'm working in. I started off the three day weekend by grabbing food with some Beast people who are in the area this summer and wanking about how dumb our hall has become, and how California can't govern itself in a reasonable way if the fate of world depended on it. Now I've got the next three days to go to San Fransisco, buy a Mercedes, and who knows, maybe I'll drive down and meet Eddie at an In-N-Out somewhere between San Fransisco and LA. Hopefully then I'll actually have something to write about.


  1. California is weird. Have fun at Tesla!

  2. I'm in LA until my graduation. Compared to Boston, the weather is pretty damn incredible.

    Enjoy the rest of your summer.

  3. I was in the Houston airport about six hours before you on the way to Austin.

  4. Hilarious.

    I'm gonna use 'prii' in a sentence this week.

  5. Welcome to the Blog World!

    I think you have plenty to write about and it's definitely more interesting that food blog. I spent summers in Cali with my maternal rellies and I don't remember squirrels being black. But I agree Cali is weird. The Grateful Heads just comfirms it.
    See I learned something new here. And I have a friend I visit in the Houston area. How behind-the-times the airport is not to have wi-fi.

    You take pretty good photos with a second hand point and shoot. That train photo is da bomb!

    Congrats on the new job...and lifestyle. Yah. A car might be a good idea, unless you really like sitting in an empty bus stop for close to two hours taking photos of....stuff. ha!

    (Visited from your sister's blog)

  6. Oh and I meant to type train station...not that there's anything wrong with a bus, mind you. :)