Saturday, August 21, 2010

John Mayer at Shoreline

After work yesterday, I went to watch John Mayer perform at the Shoreline Amphitheater. Owl City opened the concert with a bunch of their favorites like Hello Seattle and Fireflies.

I first heard Owl City on Pandora a couple of years ago when they were still not widely known. I remember finding their style a bit eclectic, but fun. Seeing Owl City live was interesting for two reasons:

1) Owl City is actually just one person (Adam Young) who started out playing in his Minnesota basement. I had heard that before, but seeing it for myself was a whole different story. It was really quite amazing to see what Adam was able to create on his own.

2) The songs had very distinct beats that made it easy to move to the music. Seated on the lawn, I got a chance to practice some of the isolation moves I'd been learning in my beginning hip-hop classes.

After Owl City finished, there was a forty-five minute lull before John Mayer took the stage. I passed the time people-watching, digitally and otherwise. On the large screen in front of the lawn, there was an announcement inviting viewers to text in messages to a Shoreline number. These messages then scrolled by on a ticker-tape on the bottom of the screen.

It was almost like a live Twitter stream of people's thoughts except with some amount of anonymity. There were the expected shout-outs, the "I love you"s, the "happy birthday"s, and the "me + John Mayer = lovers"s. There were also some anonymous come-ons and snide comments: "to the boy in the green sweatshirt, I think you're cute and you could do much better...". 

Besides being an entertaining way of passing the time, these snippets got me thinking. To the casual outside observer of these messages, the names are faceless and may as well be characters in a story. For any given message, there were probably only a handful of people who knew the context and stories of the people featured in the message. To the rest of us, it was just an anonymous blast, a stream of consciousness that probably would never get shared in person. How much of our days are spent internally voicing such thoughts that never get aired in public? And when they are aired in such anonymous mediums, are they still genuine or fictionalized?

Anyway, I stopped pondering such weighty questions as soon as John Mayer burst on to the stage with Vultures. My first impression of John was that he looked slightly crazy with his unkempt hair and old-school headband, but that he was also completely comfortable and at ease in his own skin. His musical improvisations and impromptu, unfiltered comments in between set pieces only made him appear more genuine and strengthened his connection with the audience.

I'll try to recount some of the ridiculous things he did, but probably won't be able to do them full justice. In the middle of one song, he broke off to do a series of faux rocker-poses "for the photographers" since every picture of him playing makes him look "like a damn fool". In the lead-in to Who Says, the first song he played from his new album, he asked us how many people in the audience thought he was high at the moment. "I'm not high... but that's what a person who's high would say..." And "I've done nothing but arouse suspicions... and myself...". And near the end of the concert, he unabashedly admitted that he'd had too much tea and had to go to the bathroom.  Seriously, I can't make this stuff up.

John also gave the audience a bit of advice that resonated with me. "Eighty-five percent of the weight on your shoulders", most of what you worry about every day, is nothing. Burdened with self-consciousness, we often spend so much of our time fretting about little, inconsequential decisions, about how "our worst enemy" would rip us apart for it. Just let it go.


Thursday, August 19, 2010


Sometimes, I feel like being just a little bit Wicked! Not mean wicked, but crazy wicked. There are times when I'll be sitting at my desk, trying to work. But the more I try to concentrate, the more I just want to jump up from my desk, break into song, or do a little jig.

Today was especially hard since I just saw Wicked for the first time last night and my head was literally swimming in songs from the musical. It probably didn't help that I was listening to the songs on Grooveshark while trying to work. But I couldn't help it; they are just so good!

And several of the songs seemed to be simply beckoning me to break away from my desk and dance. Dancing through Life and Thank Goodness, especially, make we want to waltz every time I hear them. "I couldn't be happier..." that I finally got to see Wicked. I've been wanting to see it for the longest time. Now, if only I could be in a production of it... that would be wonderful :)


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Singing on a Bike

This summer, most of my Saturday mornings have begun with a singing bike ride. Actually, several of my weekday morning bike rides to work have also featured similar musical numbers. And though I've been meaning to write about these rides for a while, I've never gotten around to it. So instead, I've decided to show you, rather than tell you.

These bike rides are really quite exhilarating. I find it quite freeing, especially when my hands are off the handlebars and free to gesticulate along with the music. I'll occasionally throw in a few simple dance numbers too, but that's harder to do with one hand holding a camera ;)

But when my hands are completely unencumbered, the bike's frame just becomes an extension of my feet. And at times like these, I'm often inspired to dance around turns while waving my hands maniacally :)

Oh, and I've found that these shenanigans are best-saved for the early mornings when there are likely to be fewer witnesses ;)


Zeppelins Are Not Made of Led

I woke up at 5 a.m. yesterday to go fly on a zeppelin. Yes, we had to drive all the way up to Redding. Yes, it took us at least 8 hours to get there and back. And yes, it was awesome.


An American in Berlin

I just arrived in Berlin on Thursday (07/22) morning. I had an interesting, if long flight. I sat next to a nice German couple returning home from holiday. They were kind enough to teach me some simple German words and sayings. There was also a very cool language game on the plane's seat-back computer that helped me pick up a few more helpful phrases.

After clearing passport and customs at the airport, I was in a taxi, riding through Berlin, through Europe for the first time. The first thing I noticed were the bicycles. At almost every street light and intersection, there was a cyclist riding alongside the cars.

Update (08/14):

I had meant to finish writing this blog post while in Germany, but I couldn't pull myself apart from Berlin long enough to sit down and finish this. In order to finish this before the trip becomes a distant memory, I'm transferring some of my hastily jotted notes here. They are mostly unedited and still organized in haphazard lists.

A quick list of the differences and similarities between Germany/Europe and the U.S.

  • Bathroom Shower: the handle came out and then up and down, rather than from left to right
  • Window: opened from a hinge at the top rather than sliding up
  • Oh, also bathrooms are WCs
  • More bikes, more smoking
  • Most Europeans easily speak 2-3 languages: besides German, also heard a fair bit of French, Spanish, some Dutch, Italian, and Swedish
  • Water tastes weird: comes in bottles, usually has minerals in it (sparkling), and is often not free (one bottle cost ~4 euros!)
  • A lot of the same music
    • heard Into the Night blasting from a car the first night I was in the city
    • walked into a souvenir shop and heard Taio Cruz's Dynamite and Rihanna
  • Food was familiar
    • lots of pastas, chicken (hanschen) and fish were easily available
    • even went to a Faux-Sixties Diner one night and heard MJ's Bille Jean
I also hung out with a bunch of people who were also attending the conference. Some quick notes:
  • Group of researchers from Barcelona: practiced my Spanish with them, went out the first night and explored Checkpoint Charlie; also learned that work hours can be longer in Spain
  • Group from Lausanne, Switzerland: Julien had worked at Qualcomm, San Diego; Reza had traveled to SFO for conferences; they all worked on research related to location privacy.
  • Bunch of folks at the conference knew each other from before, many attended the same conferences
  • Went with the rest of the conference party on a boat tour on the river Spree
  • Had interesting discussions about PhDs and why people did/were doing them. Interesting questions that came up: does research area actually matter? esp. if you go to industry? just showing that you can become the world expert on some topic within a short (~5 yrs) time?
Besides meeting several people, I also explored a bunch of places (pictures on Facebook) all around Berlin, including Postdamer Platz, Alexanderplatz, Berliner Dom, Museums: National gallery, Checkpoint Charlie, Brandenburg Tower, The Riechstag, Tiergarten (felt like entering the Forbidden Forest), Holocaust Maze Art, Nollendorfplatz, the Spree, and some abandoned WWII bunkers.

Me in front of the red bear in front of the Hotel Berlin.

Over the course of my several navigating adventures, I got pretty good at finding my way around the city with my trusty map. The map was well-worn from use, with rain splotches, creases and folds from being quickly folded and stuffed in my back pocket. Interestingly, most of my adventures happened at late night since I purposely tried not to shift to Berlin time. Thus, I actually found myself awake past midnight for a change :) The flipside was that I found myself in an afternoon slump and usually crashed between noon and 3 p.m. local time (Luckily, I was still awake enough to give my talk!).

While the night backdrop made my adventures that more thrilling, it also meant that I missed out on going to a lot of shops that closed earlier in the evening. For example, KaDeWe, the largest department store on mainland Europe, closed just before I got there a little after 9 p.m. local time.

Oh, and one last observation: on my strolls through the streets of Berlin, I saw lots of happy couples and people just seemed more cheerful overall. Why do I not see the same happiness on the streets of America? Perhaps, it's just that I'm not as attentive when I'm not in the excited mindset of a tourist? Or does this represent a more fundamental difference between U.S. and Europe (or the rest of the world)?


Sunday, August 08, 2010

The Fourth

I actually went outside to see fireworks this year. Trippy, right? The fireworks show followed a performance of the San Francisco Symphony at the Shoreline Amphitheater. The symphony played pieces that spanned several decades, starting with the '20s and ending with the 2000s.

Several of my favorite pieces from the night were the Rocky theme ('70s), the Indiana Jones theme ('80s), and "Defying Gravity" from Wicked (2000s). But the highlight of the night was when the fireworks went up right behind us on the lawn as the Symphony began a rousing rendition of John William's iconic theme to Star Wars. Here are some of the better shots I was able to snap on my iPhone:

View of the stage from the lawn

Shots of the fireworks right above and behind us on the lawn