World Tour Reflections
For some reason, I always imagined that park rangers would travel through the forest either on foot (big hiking boots) or on horseback. In retrospect, that makes no sense; of course they drive. In North and South Dakota, they drive pickup trucks. (Including, not surprisingly, the Dodge Dakota.) In California, they drive cars, which is actually more sensible, but somehow not as romantic.
The midwest is amazingly huge and empty except for farmland and/or ranches. Rumour has it that it takes about an acre of farmland to feed an average American. (If you think about it, this unit doesn't need a timespan portion; an acre of farmland per year feeds an American for a year, so you can cancel out the "per year" part.) This sounds kind of crazy, until you actually drive through it and realize that most of the land area of the U.S. is occupied as farmland, which is what allows the existence of such big, dense cities. Which is not a problem at all; there's plenty of room for everybody. As a person who's mostly ever just flown into the big cities before, I didn't realize just how much of the place is huge and empty. Canada definitely does not have a monopoly on huge and empty.
Yellowstone park is unbelievably fascinating if you care about geology, or if you've ever heard the term "fire and brimstone." They actually have fire and brimstone, and yes, I mean that literally. (Brimstone is a fancy word for sulphur or something like that.) Geysers are great. Old Faithful, while famous, is not the biggest, best, nor most reliable of the geysers, though, so don't limit yourself if you visit.
The Grand Canyon, while indeed very grand, is a lot like the terrain for miles and miles in any direction. There's lots of trees, rocks, and grass, and the mountains are made of sandstone. The main difference is that the height of the grand canyon is negative, while the height of the nearby mountains is positive. But the sandstone looks about the same. Apparently it's tremendously unsafe to try to hike to the bottom and back in one day; however, it looks like it would be a very fun hike to go all the way down, across, and up the other side. Reputedly this takes 3-4 days, but it would be quite the adventure.
The game F-Zero for Gamecube appears to have had its levels modeled after Utah (level 1.3), Las Vegas (all the casino levels), and Redwoods National Forest in California (the foresty/pipe level). The game's landscapes are in fact remarkably lifelike, although in real life the road goes upside-down less often.
The other really interesting thing about Utah is that so much of it is so desolate, but not a desert. It's more of a tundra or something; hard to explain. It's neat because unlike, say, Northern California or Oregon or British Columbia, where the nature constantly reminds you how valuable it is and how careful you need to be about it, you get the feeling that you could build anything in Utah and not do any significant damage. It's kind of an engineer's dream: infinite possibility, minimal consequences. Thrilling, in an empty sort of way.
While in Utah, we were sure to visit the old Wordperfect office (in Orem, UT). Of course, Wordperfect isn't there anymore; it was acquired years ago by Canadian company Corel, which proceeded to more or less rip it to shreds and utterly fail to capitalize on it. Nevertheless, its former building still stands proudly in the middle of its industrial park, which is a pretty nice industrial park really. The building has been taken over by a cooking school. In honour of the building's heritage, I was happy to see that they have named their cafeteria "Wordperfect Cafeteria." Of course, this is a bit ironic, since as it's a cooking school, I expect the food is neither perfect (probably prepared by students) nor word-related. We wanted to go eat there for historical reasons, but unfortunately time did not permit.
The Novell office in Provo, UT was a disappointment. It's just a really boring mass of cubicles. Or at least, that's how it seems from peering through the windows and trying not to get caught by a security guard. It's not even the head office anymore, apparently, since Novell's head office was moved to Boston, I suppose due to Ximian-related activity. Bleh.
We went through the Nevada desert, which was, frankly, a disappointment because it doesn't look anything like the Sahara desert does in movies. In retrospect, I shouldn't have expected it to look like some other place that it isn't, in the same way that I shouldn't have expected the food in Spain to taste like Mexican food. But it didn't, and it didn't, and I was disappointed both times. Oh well. The Nevada desert has a lot of vegetation. As far as I knew, the lack of vegetation is rather the definition of a desert. Apparently not; it's just that deserts have less than a certain threshold of annual rainfall. This saddens me somewhat, for the same reason that classifying Vancouver as a rainforest doesn't turn out to make it warm or filled with giant man-eating spiders.
Even more saddening was that it rained in Las Vegas the first night we were there. Desert, my bum. The rest of Las Vegas was as advertised. One interesting observation: "the strip" (the new area) is exactly as it's portrayed in the movies; we leaned on the balustrades of The Bellagio's giant desert fountain, just like they did in Ocean's 11 (or was it 12? or 13?). Meanwhile, the rest of Las Vegas is just like it's portrayed in books; kind of dirty and drug-infested and poor and with lots of pawn shops. It had never occurred to me that movies and stories tend to portray Vegas in such completely opposite ways. Even less did it occur to me that Vegas could actually be both ways at once.
Southern California was fascinating and unique in the sense that it's probably the only place in the world that is portrayed completely accurately by Hollywood movies, on account of it being the only place in the world that Hollywood people actually know well.
San Diego's beach district is exactly like "surfer movies" depicted it in the 1960's through 1980's. I thought that culture must have died out by now; no. They just stopped making movies about it. Even the hairstyles are the same (maybe with slightly more advanced hair gels now). Although I will never really fit in with surfer culture myself, I was gratified that San Diego was much more like its stereotype than I ever would have guessed, and it's a pretty positive stereotype.
Los Angeles is far scarier than expected, but its mood exactly matches the tone of DJ Tiesto's In Search of Sunrise 5: Los Angeles. It's such a perfect soundtrack for the place that I was honestly a little bit shocked. This makes me want even more to someday visit Latin America, since I really liked In Search of Sunrise 4.
Northern California (highways 1 and 101) are scary and the passenger in your car will probably get carsick, but it's just as worth driving as everyone says. The views are amazing.
Oregon is way prettier than advertised, and lots of people have been known to advertise its prettiness. Many of the campgrounds allow you to rent a pre-installed yurt, which sounds pretty great. Unfortunately I didn't know this before the reservation deadline, so I couldn't get one. There are also sand dunes in Dune City, which were very cool; much more like the Sahara than Nevada is, if you ask me. Portland is also a great city; excellent public transit, sensible weather, a giant bookstore, and excellent people.
As I write this, I'm in Seattle. All three of my friends that I met up with here work at Amazon.com, and they don't know each other, which tells me two things. First, apparently there are surprisingly few tech companies in Seattle (Redmond, home of Microsoft, is near here, but I somehow don't know anyone who works there anymore). Second, Amazon is obviously really big. Apparently in the past 9 or 10 years their revenues have expanded insanely, but you don't hear that much about them. Moreover, their hosting services, which you hear all about (S3, EC2, etc) form only a tiny fraction of their business. The real Amazon.com - the one that sells tangible and intangible things to customers in exchange for money - is massive, very profitable, and rapidly growing. And they don't use Amazon Web Services for all their web services.
Seattle, like Las Vegas, had rain. As a whole this trip has been pretty non-rainy. We'll see what happens for the last leg of the journey.
Summary: the U.S. is a pretty good place all around, and has lots of very interesting diversity, despite rumours to the contrary. For politics, I still greatly prefer how we do things in Canada, but as countries go, you can see why so many people like it here.
Update 2010/11/06: One person tells me that there are, in fact, giant man-eating spiders in Vancouver, so I no longer have to be disappointed about that part. Now if it only it were warm.
ssh+2FA to all your machines, anywhere, without opening firewall ports.