Liverpool! - Expat Adventures

Liverpool! - Expat Adventures

Something new I've discovered I quite enjoy, is going to a destination that you know very little to nothing about.  When Dani signed up for the Rock 'n' Roll half marathon in Liverpool, I said "sure, sounds fun! I've never been to England.". I think at that point all I knew about the city was that it was in England and it's where the Beatles came from. Turns out, it's a really awesome place to visit.

We already had Whit Monday as a holiday, so we took Friday off and made it into a long weekend. It's a super short hop from Amsterdam to Liverpool. I think the flight was only a little over an hour. We stayed at Jurys Inn, right on the wharf, and right next to all the race things (expo, start lines, party, etc).  It's a great location as you are next door to the Albert Dock, near the Mersey river (obviously), and walking distance to most things in the city center.

Mersey Waterfront / Albert Dock / Ferry

There's a lot going on along the waterfront in Liverpool. You've got the events and arena complex, the Ferris Wheel, Albert Dock, Museum of Liverpool, the "three graces" and the ferry terminal for starters.  Since we stayed in this area, we saw quite a bit, including from the ferry and the top of the Wheel of Liverpool.

Albert Dock is the largest collection of Grade 1 listed buildings in England

The water front is full of statues, memorials and so much character.

The museum of Liverpool is beautiful inside and out. In addition to a brand new John and Yoko exhibit, they had a fascinating look at lgbt history in Liverpool and England.

And of course some shots of the three Graces and obligatory pictures from the top of the Wheel of Liverpool.

City Center

There's so much in the city center area. Thee's lots of fantastic buildings, monuments, cathedrals, and historic sites. For starters, there's Matthew street, where the Beatles played while they were getting their start playing in the Cavern Club.

Then there's the Anglican cathedral that was designed by a protestant and the Protestant cathedral that was designed by an anglican.  Both absolutely gorgeous buildings. We also saw the bombed out cathedral from WW1, the Queen Victoria monument (a bit naughty from a certain angle), and St George's hall (where a lot of movies have been shot),

On the recommendation of a lady at the race expo, we took a look inside the library and the attached Liverpool world museum. The library, especially the reading room, was incredible. And the museum was quite impressive as well.  They had a terracotta warriors exhibit happening, but that was an extra charge, so we stuck to the rest of the museum. That was fine, expecially since they had a really amazing mummy exhibit.

Beatles Magical Mystery Tour

You can't go to Liverpool without seeing some amazing Beatles history. We bought tickets to the "Magical Mystery Tour" on our last day there. It's a two hour bus tour around to many different sites of significance to the band. It included places like Penny Lane, Strawberry Fields, birth homes and other houses where members of the band grew up. All along the way we got stories of how the band got together and became the phenomenon that they did.

The Races

The races were decently organised for an international Rock 'n' Roll event. The expo and bib pickup was a bit understaffed, so there was some waiting.  Dani seemed to enjoy all three races and was happy with her times. I was my usual supporter / photographer role.

If you find yourself in England and looking for a fun city to visit, definitely give Liverpool a shot. Just know that although the people are very friendly, that Scouse accent is a real bugga' to understand.

Je t'aime Disneyland Paris

Je t'aime Disneyland Paris

Dani and I have been talking about going to Disneyland Paris for what seems like forever.  Well, certainly since they first announced the Run Disney event there.  When we talked about going, the idea of us living a few hours away wasn't even conceivable.  Well folks, sometimes life takes you unexpected places.  But given that we are living in Europe now, visiting Disneyland Paris was anything, but, unexpected for us.

Our original plan was to take the train from Amsterdam Centrum to the Gare de Marne-la-Vallée station just outside the park. However, due to the train strikes in France falling on our departure date, we had to scramble and make arrangements to fly.

So we booked and flew Transavia for the first time.  There's not much to say about the airline other than it's cheap and not-bad.  It's super no-frills, so don't expect anything like "priority" lines, early boarding, free drinks, etc.  The good news is, it's quick. Only about and hour and twenty minutes gate to gate. The downside is that we then had to pay for a bus shuttle to take us the remaining 50 minus from Orly Airport to the parks area. And we had to spend time in Orly, which is a shit airport, on the way back.

We stayed at the Sequoia Lodge resort. It was an okay hotel, but definitely felt dated, even though I understand it was renovated not that long ago.  The amenities were nice (lounge, shop, restaurants, etc.).  We didn't get a change to check out the pool, but it looked quite nice as well. And the grounds were spectacular.  It's also nice in that it's a 15 minute walk to the park entrances through Disney Village. There's a spectacular lagoon along the way as well.

We spent most of the rest of Friday and the weekend in the parks. The castle here is spectacular. It's even got it's own dragon underneath. And the parks are just gorgeous in general. Space Mountain (Hyperspace temporarily) at this park is the best one, hands down. The coaster is awesome, and the Star Wars overlay works perfectly. My favourite thing there. The Ratatouille ride is also super good. It's a fun mix of practical and projected 3D effects that brings you down to the size of a rat in a kitchen.

Because of social media and friends, we were able to meet up with a new friend, Giona, who is a cast member with Disneyland. He was super kind and spent much of his weekend playing in the parks with us and showing us around.  And the best part is, now we have a new friend in Paris! 

"It's a Small World" isn't my favourite attraction, but it has grown on me in recent years. I was really surprised how nice and fresh the Paris one felt.  Plus it was fun to see how the States and Canada are portrayed in a non-US based attraction.  It... did not disapoint.

And of course, we had to book at least one character dining experience.  When we booked our package, we took the option of a Crystal Palace breakfast.  Breakfast itself was quite good. I appreciated the variety of fresh foods. French staples like croissants and crepes were all very good. We had some great characters too. Mickey, of course, and Daisy.  But then Scrooge McDuck came out and we were pumped! He's one of those characters you rarely see.

So it's safe to say the wife and I had a great time this trip (despite me getting sick half way through).  We loved it so much we decided to take the plunge and purchase annual passes.  Since the park is close enough for us to make the trip pretty easily, it made sense. I already can't wait to go back!

Keukenhof Gardens - Expat Adventures

Keukenhof Gardens - Expat Adventures

This is the first of what I'm going to call my Expat Adventures posts.

After a couple months of living in Amsterdam, Dani and I finally took our first touristy trip out of the city.  We visited the Kuekenhof Gardens in the town of Lisse. The gardens are only open for a couple months in the spring each year.  They are 32 hectares of beautiful gardens, with eateries, art, a playground, a petting zoo, windmill and a hedge maze.

We took a Tours and Tickets bus from the Amsterdam City center, which dropped us off right at the gardens gate.  They gave us a little over three hours before we had to board the bus and get back, which is plenty of time to tour the entire place.

The grounds are split into different areas and include several large buildings. The buildings had different setups including a display history of tulips, an amazing building full of orchids, and one with a series of different intricate displays. In the large center building there were beds and beds of flowers on display from different growers in the Netherlands. Who knew there were so many different types of tulips?  Not me!

After a few hours, we boarded the bus and headed back to the city. All in all, it was a very fun and fragrant afternoon. It's one of those places, that if you find yourself in the Netherlands in April/March, you should definitely check it out! In the mean time, check out a few of the photos I took below.  Tot later!

Next weekend, we are visiting Disneyland Paris for the first time!

Game Developers Conference 2018

Game Developers Conference 2018

I just noticed I haven't actually published a blog post since I started to detail out GDC last year.  I think I've started a "How living in Amsterdam is going" post a couple times, but haven't managed to finish that up. Hopefully soon. Anyways...

Last week I was back in the states for the annual Game Developers Conference (GDC). As it was my second time there, I felt much more prepared going into the event. Knowing where things are and how things generally work helps a lot in managing your time and quelling anxiety.  There are still some things I want to work on for next year, such as planning ahead for ancillary networking events and maybe even an after party (I'm looking at you Unity). I definitely need to work on putting myself out there more and try to make friends in the industry. I'm a pretty shy person, so that's a tough thing for me.

This trip, much like the last one, I spent a lot of my time in talks, presentations, and seminars on various subjects.  There always seems to be way more that I'd like to see than I have time to attend. But I did my best, and the rest I'll have to hit up on the vault later.  Here's the list I attended over the week for those that are curious.

  • The Year in Mobile Games
  • Good Game Design is like a Magic Trick
  • Practical IP Law for Indie Developers 301: Plain Scary Edition
  • Know Your Market: Making Indie Games That Sell
  • Crafting RPG Worlds in Real Environments with AR
  • Making Twitch Interactive with Twitch Extensions (Presented by Amazon)
  • New Mobile Frontiers: HTML5 Development Best Practices (Presented by Facebook)
  • Mobile Game Designers Notebook
  • Mobile Game Dev Stories
  • It's About Time: System Design for Mobile Free-to-Play
  • Job System & Entity Component System (Presented by Unity Technologies)
  • Board Game Design Day: Balancing Mechanics for Your Card Game's Unique "Power Curve"
  • Let's Be Realistic: A Deep Dive into How Games Are Selling on Steam
  • Indie Soapbox
  • Inside Oculus 2018 (Presented by Oculus)
  • Developing the Art of 'Fortnite'
  • GDC Microtalks 2018: Playing with Fire
  • 'Rick and Morty: Virtual Rick-ality' Postmortem: VR Lessons *Burrrp* Learned
  • 'Horizon Zero Dawn': A Game Design Postmortem
  • How to Write Games for the Internet without Embarrassing Yourself
  • Playing with Pride: When Game Culture and LGBTQ Culture Collide
  • Marketing on Zero Budget
  • Micro Postmortems

One thing I made sure to hit up this year, after missing it last time, was the awards ceremony.  On Wednesday evening they have the IGF Awards Ceremony followed by the Game Developers Choice Awards. It was a hilarious and inspiring couple hours seeing some of the best of the best games and developers. Those of us not nominated or part of the nominated's friends and family were walled off in the back three quarters of the room, while the people at the front tables did some pretty good drinking it looked like.

I spent some time on the show floor on Wednesday and Thursday.  Being a part-time indie, a lot of the b2b offerings aren't super applicable to me.  However, there was still a good bit to see.  I got to try out the new Oculus Go headset and play a little bit of "They Suspect Nothing" at the Oculus booth. I spent a good deal of time at both the Amazon and Microsoft booths learning more about their services and collecting swag. I love the azure blue coloured xBox controller MS was handing out.  And I also got to play a little bit of Squanch Games' "Dr. Splorchy Presents: Space Heroes" on the new Lenovo Mirage Solo Daydream powered headset that they teamed up with Google on.

In the small bits of downtime I had, I managed to catch up with an old work friend, went to see the new Tomb Raider movie, and wander around SF a bit.

All in all, it was a really great week. I really hope that I can make it back again next year.  In the meantime, I'll be attending my second Unity conference (first in Europe) this June at Unite Berlin! I hope to have the game I'm working on formally announced by then!

GDC & San Francisco Part I

GDC & San Francisco Part I

Sometime early yesterday (seems like much longer ago now), I was dropped off at the airport to make the 6+ hour flight trek west. I think the last time I was in San Francisco was when Dani and I came out six or seven years ago. So I was pretty excited to get back out here.  I'm staying at the Cartwright hotel in Union Square. I was pleasantly surprised by how nice the hotel is.  The building is old, but the rooms are nicely updated.  They are small, but that works fine for my solo trip this week.

I decided to walk down to Fisherman's Wharf and pier 39. Because of the time difference, I was already super hungry at 3pm, so I battled the crowd for my In-N-Out burger fix. I'm so sad that we don't have that chain on the east coast, but I suppose that's good for my self control. Right after I finished eating, it rained for a short while.  I was a little bummed to be caught in it, but seeing this rainbow really made it alright.

Since I'm still on east coast time, I crashed about 8:30 pm - which means I was then up at 4am. Fun!

Monday at GDC

Registration opened at 7:30 am, so I grabbed a coffee and headed over.  From what I understand, registration was a bit of a pain in years past.  It could not have been more simple this year. I grabbed my badge and "swag bag", then headed over to the west hall.  Since panels didn't start until 10am I just hung out at the tables and did a bit of work on my game.

With a couple exceptions, I spent the entirety of my day taking in the panels from this years "Mobile Summit". Since I'm working on my own mobile game, it was super educational.  More than anything it gave me a bit more of a peak into the industry that I lack, having never worked for a studio.  The other two panels were a "Simple AI Tricks" panel and a postmortem on a really neat Project Tango based augmented reality game called "Woorld". 

I was very impressed by how well things ran today.  And how diverse and inclusive the entire conference is.  There were people from all over the world, men, women, trans peeps.  Given how bad the player community can be to people who are cis-white hetero males, It's nice to see that the dev community is so much more inclusive.  

Anyways, here's photos I took today.

Life Inertia

Life Inertia

A few people know that I sometimes battle with some mild depression. Sometimes I just slide into a state of being where I have a lot of anxiety and my mood goes super low for a few days or weeks. I always manage to come out of it for a while, but it sucks. I've been struggling there for most of February. One thing it does tend to do is cause me to do a lot of introspection and reevaluating of priorities.

One of the things I've kinda figured out is that I'm struggling against what I can only describe as life inertia. You set yourself on this path in life by making various decisions and pursuing different goals. And like a boulder rolling down a hill, you build up inertia. But then when you want to change course, trying to steer that boulder into another direction feels impossible. Even more so, when you and your partner are a pair of boulders rolling down the hill together.

I had a whole post planned out about the specifics. How I'm trying to morph my career from a successful web developer into making games. How I'm working so hard to get myself back on a healthy track, both financially and physically.  And about how much I dislike living in New England and the internal conflict that causes. But I don't think I'm going to go much into detail right now. Mostly I can't find a way to phrase it all that doesn't sound like whining or doesn't turn into an essay length diatribe.

I'm going to Game Developers Conference next week. I'm hoping that spending a week immersed in the world which I really want to break into will be the impetus I need to push myself harder. I'm making better choices with my money and with my health. And I have Dani helping me along the way. As for being stuck in Somerville... ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

So I guess all I can do for now is continue to nudge that rolling boulder and hope that eventually it will shift.

#boardgameflirts

#boardgameflirts

I run a Slack group that a handful of friends and I converse in daily about many things nerdy.  Today started out innocently enough with a post in our Boardgames channel. Joel posted a board game based pickup line.  It quickly devolved from there.  For your reading pleasure, here is the NSFW list of line.

Peace Out 2016, Don't Let the Door Hit Ya

Peace Out 2016, Don't Let the Door Hit Ya

Happy New Year!

Hope everyone had a great New Years Eve and start to the new year.  Dani and I had a great quiet night at home with the pups.

I should have known this year wasn't gong to go out quietly. Walking to the train the other morning I caught my foot and took a tumble on the sidewalk. I landed on my left knee, my right elbow, and.... my iPhone. And so I pretty much destroyed the screen. A nice little end of year expense I didn't expect. But hey, bright side, I upgraded to the 7.

So with 2016, the world around us has been filled with way too much bad stuff.  From the many beloved celebrities who passed on, the tragedy at Pulse nightclub, the fact that our country elected a orange faced, facist, man-baby to be our next president, the tragedies in Syria, and many other tragedies around the world . It's been a shitty year.

But with the bad, there's also good. Looking back over the year, Dani and I had some pretty great adventures this year.

  • Went to Disneyland & Dani completed the Star Wars Light Side Challenge
  • Chicago Visit and Dani's first Comic Con - C2E2

  • Received my Associates Degree in general studies

  • Went to Disney World & Completed the RunDisney Star Wars Dark Side Challenge

  • Attended my First PAX Ever!

  • Visited "Comic Book Men's" Comic shop in NJ and met couple of the guys from the show.

  • Attended 3 Weddings

  • Built Companimals at the Microsoft Hololens Hackathon

  • Built a gaming rig and entered the world of VR with my Oculus Rift

  • Dani Completed her Ultra Marathon

  • Saw Billy Joel in concert at Fenway Park

  • Finally got Dani to take me to King Richards Faire

  • Philadelphia Trip

  • Montreal Trip (first time in Canada)

  • Attended our first BU Hockey Game

  • Another trip to Disney World and the Wine and Dine Festival / Race Weekend

  • Star Wars Rogue One! (I love Star Wars)

The other big change that happened this year, was taking the jump back into the start-up world again.  At the end of July I took a new position as the lead front-end developer / architect with Indico Data Solutions. It's been a great move for me, allowing me to be a lot more creative and work to improve my leadership skills.  And in my field, there's always more technology to learn and stay up to date on.

But what about 2017 you ask?  I'm not much of a person for resolutions, mostly because I'm not good at keeping them and I think that New Year's is an arbitrary point in time for self improvement. But it's as good a time as any to take stock of where you are and set some new goals. I have a few in mind I'd like to work towards in the coming months.

  • First off, I vow to keep fighting. This country is going to need people to keep fighting for the rights of women, minorities, and immigrants under the incoming administration. I could go on and on about how terrified I am that the progress we've made over the past few years could be rolled back and then some.  But I think most people who have been paying attention understand.  The only thing we can do is to keep fighting and show up at the next elections in 2 and 4 years.
     
  • Project: I'm planning to build a "droid".  It's a multi-disciplinary project that I think will take me the better part of a year. But I'm very excited to take the plunge. The plan is to build a motorized life size Chopper from Star wars rebels. For an idea of what I'm talking about, check out this amazing build by "Darth Will", https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LL4SFNwV-Po. I'm hoping to build something similar.
     
  • Continue Learning. I bought a ukulele in Hawaii several years back  when Dani and honeymooned.  And I've not found the time to learn how to play. I'm going to try to prioritize time to learn.  I also plan to devote more time to working on and learning more game development.  I'm very excited to be attending the Game Developer / Virtual Reality Developer conference this year.
     
  • Give myself an Attitude Adjustment. So we've been living in Somerville for pretty close to five years now. While I moved here with an open mind and even a bit of excitement, I've never really fallen in love with the Boston area to put it kindly. I'm going to try to suck it up, deal with the overcrowding and horrible public transit and try to be somewhat positive about living here for now.

I'm looking forward to the next year.  I'm also terrified about what effects the Trump presidency will have on the world and on my life, but nothing to do but forge ahead and get ready to fight. And play some hockey. Yeah, I'm gonna play a lot of hockey.

Disney Holidays & Wine and Dine 2016

Disney Holidays & Wine and Dine 2016

Dani and I took in our first food and wine festival as Disney a couple weeks ago.  As a huge fan of Disney and of the RunDisney races and with the announcement of the inaugural Lumiere's Two Course Challenge, we couldn't pass it up the opportunity for another trip to the happiest place on earth.  It also didn't hurt to be there during the final stretch of this awful election year (but that's a story for another post).

As usual, we stayed at our favorite budget hotel, Pop Century.  Staying at those resorts makes getting to the parks, the race expo, and all the races so much easier.  While Dani has signed up for all three races, I decided just to do the 5K this trip.  That meant I only had to get up SUPER early one of the days.  This race, my first RunDisney 5k,  actually turned out to be one of my best RunDisney races. As per usual I didn't stop for any pictures, due to the long lines, but I managed to plod out a 40ish minute 3.2 miles without having to do intervals or stop to walk. I think I even managed to get negative spits.  I guess all the cross training is starting to pay off.

The race itself was mostly through Animal Kingdom which was actually pretty nice. We got to see a fair amount of the "backstage" areas of the park - which included some animatronic Dinosaurs in storage as well as the floats for their new lagoon show.  And how about this start? Is that snow? In Florida? ;)

Dani rocked her 10k and Half as well.  And sported some pretty nice costumes if I do say so myself.  You can see those on her Instagram or blog.

Outside of the races we enjoyed six awesome days at the parks.

While we were there, the 2016 Food and Wine expo was also happening.  Essentially what this was, was at Epcot they set up food and drink kiosks all over the world showcase with tapas sized food options from all over the world.  There was even a passport booklet you could get to check off all the different food and drink you tried.  It's a bit expensive as you have to pay for each item and they aren't cheap.  But it's so much fun to try all sorts of food.  I think my favorites might have been the Korean Barbecue and the Elderberry Cider.  Oh and we didn't even know that they had special concerts for the festival, so you can imagine how excited Dani was to see Boyz II Men live.

The other amazing highlight was going to the first of this years Mickey's Magical Christmas Party.  This was an extra ticket which got us into a four hour "party" at Magic Kingdom that Monday night.  They had many of the rides open (with much shorter lines),  free treat stops with all sorts of cookies, eggnog, and hot chocolate, special character spots, an incredible holiday parade and an even more amazing fireworks show.  I'm so glad we decided buy tickets to the party. It was so much fun,

As per usual, a lot of photos were taken. (Although I always find I forgot to capture a few things).

We even saw my gal, Phasma, marching the troops through Hollywood Studios!

We enjoyed the experience so much we are already planning on going back again next year.

J'aime Montréal

J'aime Montréal

Sometime's Dani's races take us to some really cool places.  This time it took us north of the border, to Canada.  I can't believe it's taken me this long to visit our neighbors to the north.  And I have to say I absolutely fell in love with the place.

It's kind of funny, every time I bring up Montreal, if the person has been there, they agree the city is amazing. It's a beautiful mix of old and new.  The people were friendly and the poutine was delicious. Highlights included poutine of course, seeing the Bell Centre, Square Victoria, and the Olympic Monument.