Los Angeles Travelogue Notes

Los Angeles travelogue notes

I’m visiting my friend Luke in Los Angeles. It’s my first time visiting this city. It’s actually the last great American city I have never visited; I saw everything else in the top ten a long time ago, but my family avoided visiting this place, and I kept that avoidance myself for many years.

The drive down from Mountain View is something I’ve heard people complain about. They say I-5 is boring and flat and empty, and 101 takes forever. I chose 101, and it was a long but completely bearable six hours. I don’t understand the fuss; it’s absolutely beautiful, mountains and rolling grassy hills and curves and glimpses of the ocean the whole way down. A lot like 280. I don’t think it was much longer than I-5 would have been, and so can’t understand why people on a casual trip would ever choose it.

LA traffic is not exaggerated! On a lazy saturday afternoon it’s thick in places even many miles outside the city center. The roads are wide; it’s almost purely an issue of the sheer number of cars. I have to remind myself that I’m driving into another New York, not another Austin or Seattle.

Crossing over the last mountain to see the Hollywood sign and downtown buildings leaves me utterly, stupidly gleeful, like Kenneth the Page from 30 Rock. Hollywood isn’t something I particularly care about, and LA wasn’t even on my travel list for much of my life, but the recognition value is high, and makes me feel like I’m seeing something rul durn big. There’s a tan orange lady driving a mercedes, and a baller white kid driving a Z3, bored girlfriend staring out the passenger window, so bored. I just can’t stop grinning.

Turning off the highway and into neighborhoods, I find sunny streets, mildly run down, old homes and three story apartment buildings, a nice grid of primary streets with cheap shops. It’s San Antonio, basically, but endless. I’m enjoying it, and at some point I realize: I’ve never had a place so exactly meet my visual expectations. It takes me a while to realize the reason: I’ve been seeing this place on video for my whole life.

Koreatown, where my friend Luke lives, is humongous. It’s something like three square miles (ten by thirty blocks) with a population in the low hundreds of thousands, plurality korean. Even though it’s a weekend, there aren’t very many middle aged people. Everyone is very old and very wrinkled, or very young and very stylish. I think the middle aged people have moved out to the suburbs. There are literally a dozen or more skyscrapers in Koreatown alone, four or more with giant logos of Korean banks. This is just one part of LA. This place is huge.

(God damn it’s hard to concentrate on writing with a gif of Kenneth the Page playing above you)

The food is amazing. We have the best Korean barbecue I can remember having (as good as or better than Vancouver), a few blocks from Luke’s apartment, and it’s all you can eat (we don’t eat too much), and for $10 each. Koreatown is a walking place, which is a big part of why Luke picked it. In a day and a half, we will walk for barbecue, ramen (best ramen I can remember having, first time I’ve had Oyakodon), coffee, and two walks just for fun.

We also walk around UCLA. It’s a pretty campus, sunny like UT, hilly and full of brick buildings like UW. The area surrounding is really wealthy, and the UCLA students seem pretty fashionable and too flashy. The medical facilities are endless; this must be such a good medical school. We pass one medical building named after David Geffen, and another after Ronald Reagan. I can’t imagine worse people to have medical buildings named after them, but it reminds me that every named building is likely named after someone ridiculous, someone officious. Architecturally I haven’t liked a campus this much in a long time.

We have a long (all day) conversation that drifts through programming, catholic guilt, old workplace gossip, new workplace comparisons, marriage, being thirty, cultural differences of a lot of different types, critiques of the new city (since Luke has only just moved here), dangers and obligations of people who gain the power to move the lever of the world, and other things I can’t remember. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen Luke, and I’ve missed him. It’s great to talk non-stop for twelve hours.

The next day we wake up late and go to Santa Monica so I can see the beach. There are almost no asian people. In their stead: gym clothes wearing white people. Well over 90% gym clothes whites. With creepy tans.

The beach is great, and for a while we talk about the fear of open water and staring into the great underwater abyss, but it’s cloudy, and blood sugar is low, so we don’t stay long. On the way to find food, we stop at a touristy british pub/shop, because I suspect they will have Revels. They do! I buy a bunch, and impulsively lie to the shop owner that I grew up in Britain and deeply deeply miss Revels. I’m ready to explain that my dad was a UCL professor when I was little, but he doesn’t ask about that; instead says Galaxy Bars are his favorite, and we talk a bit about chocolate. Luke asks the other proprietor where british people in LA gather, and she says “Here, of course”, and without thinking he replies, “Isn’t it a little touristy?”.

We go back to the car and wander aimlessly for a while, thinking about where we might eat. The wandering is a good way to see the size of Los Angeles, the way one neighborhood rather suddenly borders another. In this wandering way, over the day and a half I will get to see: Thai town, Downtown, Hollywood proper (I accidentally and aimlessly drive us by the walk of fame and the chinese theater and the wax museum without realizing it), and Skid Row (that one’s on purpose).

None of these pictures are mine.

After lunch (decent Thai food in a truly and hilariously skeevy neighborhood with aimless tough men standing outside cheap shops that nevertheless offer valet parking) and some more wandering and good conversation, it’s time for me to head back home. The drive back is as good as the drive down.

Thanks, Luke! Looking forward to coming back 😀

Three Short Game Reviews

There are three games I’ve been playing lately:


Monaco is a multiplayer heist game in the faux 1900 style of Agatha Christie or Dudley Do-Right. Players take the roles of crime specialists (the Lookout, the Pickpocket, the Cleaner, etc) to help the mysterious Gentleman escape the city of Monaco, doing ample crime along the way.

The game is set top-down in an adorable but somewhat cluttered 8-bit style. Controls are dead simple, levels are relatively well laid out, and on the surface, the game promises to be one of careful sneaking and planning. In reality, it’s a zany dash as players scramble in chaos to make up for each others’ mistakes. The game more or less perfectly resembles a screwball comedy movie. I laughed more playing this than I did playing Portal 2.

The character classes offer genuinely different strategies. For instance, the Mole can tunnel through most parts of a level, while the Cleaner puts guards to sleep with chloroform. The Locksmith opens locks much more quickly than other players, and the Lookout can see all the guards on the board.

Where Monaco falls down is in communicating information and objectives to the players. The boards are dense and overfilled with glyphs. It’s not clear where players should be going, or what things need to be done. There are arrows everywhere pointing the way, but they just distract from the other glyphs and vice versa. I feel like the game would almost benefit from a collaborative planning phase, or at least some more in-game direction.

Ultimately, I would highly recommend this, but specifically as a party game. 



Naught is an iPhone platform game, and surprisingly, it doesn’t suck. The game is relatively unusual for having you rotate the whole world; the protagonist just follows along.

There are several different control styles: tilting the phone, pressing left and right rotators (I favor this style), and swiping left and right. All seem pretty smooth, and not just in the “smooth for an iPhone game” way of other platform games.

Naught is beautiful, albeit a little rough around the edges, with a harsh and creepy black and white style, and (other than the main character) smooth, flowing line work.

The puzzles and obstacles are pretty thoughtful, and the game requires a lot of the same kind of mind bending as your favorite real life metal puzzles, with an added world spinning disorientation. Imagine if you were doing a metal ring puzzle while riding a creepy black and white roller coaster, only you didn’t need to throw up. That’s Naught.

The music is an almost intolerably bad collection of canned drum solos and weak techno. I turned it off and I’m not turning it back on.

I’m told the game has a good story, but I haven’t bothered yet. The levels are too interesting.


Naught is a little too rough around the edges, but I’d still recommend it. Better if you can try someone else’s copy first.



Basically, Awesomenauts is multiplayer Megaman. It’s Smash Bros with guns. It’s… a playable saturday morning cartoon. If you’re looking for a shiny multiplayer game with a lot of staying power, this is the one to get.

There’s almost no story to Awesomenauts (and indeed, no single player mode). Two robot armies battle across the galaxy for lucrative resource drilling rights, and a team of elite mercenaries, the Awesomenauts, are free for hire anywhere, on either side.

The game is a really well tuned platform game with cute cartoon weapons and a lot of interesting and useful special powers. All games are 3 on 3, with players able to play on the same team, opposing teams, single or multi player (bots play the rest), local or split screen or online or whatever.

Both sides field an endlessly regenerating army of droids, and both sides have strategically placed turrets which are very hard to kill. The game shifts smoothly back and forth between player vs player skirmishes, tower defense and tower pushing, and killing cheap droids for money. Money provides for a satisfying amount of strategy; you gather money while fighting and use it to buy upgrades, typically on the order of five or ten in a game. Choice of upgrades is very context dependent and can significantly impact the game outcome.

The game has a crap-ton of different (really actually different) characters with cute stock attitudes, enough to suit many different playing styles. I favor Lone Star, the bull wrangler who hovers around the edge of skirmishes doing ranged damage with thrown sticks of dynamite and holo-bulls. My friend Vianney favors Skølldir, a heavy robot Viking with earthquake and throwing powers. Many players have abilities for physically adjusting other characters; there’s pushing, pulling, slowing, stopping, throwing. For a video game, it feels very physical.

Did I mention that the game is super cartoony? I have a high tolerance for cartoons, and occasionally it’s even a little too shiny for me. The rest of the time, I’m extremely happy with the graphics.

Gameplay in a group tends to feel like a nice halfway point between a 3 on 3 basketball game (with intensity and strategy) and Smash Bros (with chaos and happy shouting).

There’s a bit of a learning curve (the tutorial helps this enormously), there aren’t enough levels (yet), and you don’t have most of the upgrades until you’ve played enough to unlock them, but this game is otherwise flawless. I would recommend it highly to anyone and everyone, at least to try.


Seriously, folks, it’s a damned saturday morning cartoon:

Friendly or Hostile?

Today at lunch, I found myself wondering: do I work in a friendly environment, or a hostile environment?

This is a question which has occupied a lot of my time for the last few years.

Where I work, there are lots of strong primary colors and bright tones, like a preschool. The food is very nice, and everything about the environment appears to be set up to make me happy to be there. The stuff they have me work on is interesting and the people are really engaged. This seems pretty friendly.

On the other hand, it’s a corporation, everything I get is payed for by icky nasty advertising, there are a distressing number of business people and other money-first people, a lot of plainly unpleasant corporate politics. This seems pretty hostile.

But… I’m starting to realize I’ve been exaggerating in both directions.

Nobody at my workplace is my friend, or would care all that much if I went away. This isn’t friendly at all.

At the same time, I’m in no danger whatsoever. There are no tigers, there’s no punching, there’s no heroin.

The bright colors, tasty food, business people, unpleasant politics… these are false markers. I’m reading them as extremes when they all fall in a pretty narrow band.

Where I work (indeed every1 place I’ve worked) is just an environment. A decent one, safe and relatively full of opportunities.

How do you feel about your place of work?

(1) I have actually worked at one truly friendly place. The people there cared about each other and about me, and I about them. Many were friends before working together, and most remained friends after the place was torn apart. This… might have set the standard for me wondering about friendly and hostile places. I saw Shangri-La too early 🙂