Category Archives: USA

San Diego and the CSUN Conference

colourful condo buildings and elongated trees

Condos in downtown San Diego

Day One

Matt walked me to the CSUN conference at the Hyatt Hotel from where we were staying in Little Italy. Once registered, I scurried off to my first session. My favourites from the day were on WordPress backward compatibility and accessible PDF design. I saw a couple friends from the Canadian accessibility scene – and lots of cute guide dogs!

After the conference, I went back to the hotel where Matt and I had a disco nap before heading back out into San Diego for the night’s festivities. We had a social with accessible karaoke and networking with beer ahead of us!

blue sky and contemporary building

View above the pool at the Hyatt Hotel

San Diego was a very strange city. It looked as if everything had been built in the last 20 years, kept sanitary, and manicured. A Lyft driver told us the city had been built on a dessert – every palm tree had been placed with purpose.

Matt and I went to the Deque social in the evening, but it was loud and we both felt awkward. We then made our way down to the hotel lobby bar, Redfield’s, which I was told was the place to be, but I didn’t see anyone I know.

So, we wandered over to a park in a marina where we saw lots of small rabbits by the water. Matt pointed out constellations in the stars to me, guessing which were stars or planets. We walked up the the convention centre where locals were exercising on the steps, making our way to the Gaslamp District.

I thought I might see some friends on the patio as the Gaslamp District had been applauded at the Toronto Accessibility Meet-up. We didn’t, but found cheap tacos and $2 beers at a Mexican bar to end our night that didn’t quite go as planned, on a tasty and economical note.

My notes from Day 1 of the CSUN Conference.

open doors into an old train station

Santa Fe train station in downtown San Diego

Day Two

Matt packed me a sandwich lunch while I got ready (CSUN does not offer snacks or lunch) and walked me to the conference before parting ways to do professional networking of his own in the Los Angeles’ film industry.

My favourite talks at CSUN that day were on Accessible Maps and a discussion on diversity, focusing on Whole Food’s orange controversy. At lunch, I went and sat by the marina to eat my sandwich where I watched the boats and tourists go by. It was very relaxing to sit in the sun listening to the birds in the trees, the water lapping the rocks on the shore, and the breeze in the leaves.

After the conference, I went and sat in at the Hyatt’s bar, Redfield’s, where I was told all the good discussions happen. Unfortunately, I didn’t see anyone I knew and the Narwhal stout I decided to try was undrinkable (fizzy water with corn syrup anyone?). So, I left my full beer at the bar and wandered about outside, taking pictures of downtown San Diego until it was time for the CSUN Tweet-up.

palm trees against a sunset

Palm trees outside the Hyatt Hotel

Usually I thrive at accessibility meet-ups, but instead anxiety took over despite knowing people there. I went and sat outside for a bit, admiring the sunset behind the palm trees before going back into for Round Two of the Tweet-up. However, I felt even worse the second time that not even the prospect of free pastries or booze could entice me (two of my favourite things!). So, I wandered back to the hotel feeling like the worst human being to have passed up the best opportunity ever to hangout with the crème de la crème of my industry.

My notes from Day 2 of CSUN.

photo of a low rise condo building

Condos and office buildings in downtown San Diego

Day Three

The last day of CSUN went by very quickly. There was a live broadcast of the Viking & Lumberjack with pizza and beer. I always enjoy their performances – it’s so great to laugh about one’s own industry and shared experiences.

I went to two sessions by Adobe, both uninspiring, but had some big news dropped: Adobe is adding an undo function to Acrobat for tagging, reading order etc! No release date set yet, but this is pretty major. I made sure I had heard correctly 3 times before I tweeted out the news. It’s a game changer.

Matt returned from LA at the same time I got back to the hotel after CSUN finished. We walked up India Street to a new part of town we hadn’t explored yet. It was lined with breweries, little boutiques, and old cottages, which was a pleasant change from the overly touristy downtown core.

photo of a plane flying overhead of a patio at a bar

A plane flying above the patio at El Camino

We ended up at El Camino, a chic Mexican bar under an airline approach path. We sat on the patio and watched the planes come in while enjoying $3 and $5 Mexican food during a very happy hour(s). We had a great time! It was perfect way to cheers the end of our big feats – my time at CSUN and Matt’s trip to LA.

My notes from Day 3 of CSUN.

The Great Big List from CSUN 2016 (slides and other attendee’s notes)

photo of Nell's CSUN badge on a table

Post-conference celebrations at El Camino


Driving the Californian Coast

 Big Sur mountains and beach 
We awoke groggy and tired. Neither of us had slept well. When we went down for breakfast, CNN was showing footage of a terrorist attack on an airport in Brussels. We ate our blueberry waffles and yogurt in silence.

It was 8:30 by the time we hit the road. The drive along the coast was beautiful. Moss covered trees, cliffs, and huge waves! Big Sur was particularly beautiful and we even saw some seals a little later on. They looked like dead bodies in sacks to me.

 Big Sur mountains and beach 
As we were pressed for time to reach San Diego by nightfall, we didn’t make many stops along the way. We took the Cabrillo Highway until it ended, then continued as close to the coast as possible.

The further south we drove, the more exotic the roadside became. The scenery changed from lush, old growth forests to shrubs and palm trees, red stone cliffs to yellow stone covered in low lying wild flowers. Architecture had a distinct Spanish influence, pale yellow with red tile roofs. 

 Matt taking a photo of the ocean 
The weather remained constantly sunny, but gradually grew warmer until I could discard my spring jacket. We sang along to 80’s music, accompanied by Matt giving me rock music history lessons and answering science questions I had on passing phenomenons.
 mountain in southern california 

Once we got into Santa Barbara, the horizon was lined with oil rigs against the hazy backdrop of the Channel Islands of California. We drove through Malibu and Los Angeles (LA). We hit rush hour traffic in LA where it was stop and go for about 3 hours through a combination of diners and shops, including a thrift store that doubled as a HIV testing clinic.

The sun began to set outside of LA. The sky had hints of lavender blue, pink and orange smog over distant jagged mountains with a large, bright moon overhead. Looking back, the sky was pale blue with candy floss pink clouds. 

We arrived in San Diego around 8:30pm. Once we checked into our hotel, Urban Boutique Hotel, we went on a mission to find beer and tacos. However, everything was closing at 9pm on a Tuesday. The only place that had an open kitchen was a pasta and pizza place where we shared a plate and each had a beer. Fed and watered, we went home to bed. island off the coast of california 

San Francisco

coffee and a croissant

Matt enjoying an almond croissant at farm : table

Day One

We started off our day with breakfast at Farm : Table, a small but very popular cafe near our hostel on Nob Hill. Matt had a quiche, i had an egg and ham croissant with a Pug ‘n Honey latte, with an almond croissant to share on the sidewalk patio.

We walked all over San Francisco. The morning air was full of the scent of jasmine, the song of birds, and the rustle of leaves in the breeze of exotic trees. Our first stop was Crooked Street, a steep and windy road in a leafy residential district. Matt wanted to climb every steep road we could find and eventually we found ourself in a surreal district of billionaires’ mansions overlooking the city.

palace of fine arts

Palace of Fine Arts


We made our way back down to a historic fort with cute military cottages that reminded me of the Bain Co-op in Toronto. Then we went to Fisherman’s Wharf where we had our first good view of the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. We walked along the water until we got to the Palace of Fine Arts, an ornate neo-classical structure overlooking a peaceful water garden.

Approaching noon, we made our way to the jazz district. Matt wanted to catch the Palm Sunday service at the Church of John Coltrane. The colourful little room was full of people playing musical instruments, singing with big smiles on their faces, all in the style off the jazz musician John Coltrane. They handed out palm leaves which everyone waved around to the music, which was fun. I enjoyed looking around at the audience – in classic Californian style, there was even a smartly dressed woman with a tiny dog in her purse!

Civic Centre in San Francisco

The Civic Centre


We walked past City Hall and the ornate performing arts buildings, through interesting low income housing. We stopped in a cafe my friends had recommended to have an americano and lemon square before wandering back to our hostel to nap before meeting Matt’s friend Ted for dinner.

Ted took us to Hog Island Oyster Co at the San Francisco Ferry Building. The lineup was quite long, but we had a great time chatting in the rain about Toronto food and drink destinations. We shared an oyster sampler, chicken fried oysters on waffles (Matt loves waffles), chipotle grilled oysters, and Old Bay fries. We sat on the patio overlooking the water and the ferry, cozy under a heat lamp in the rain.


stormy ferry dock

Bike on the ferry port near Grey’s Bridge

We finished our evening at an ice cream parlour in the Ferry Building. After tasting a couple flavours (including savoury pepper and mint), all three of us settled on bourbon and cornflakes – with Matt adding caramel-bourbon sauce to his! Then we went home to bed and CBC radio.


seagull on the ferry dock

Seagull outside the Ferry Building


Day Two

We found a small sandwich shop using Yelp for breakfast. They had great coffee, very strong – and we each had an turkey egg sandwich while reading the San Francisco Chronicle. I quite enjoyed the newspaper – interesting stories and nice layout.


beetle parked on a hill in front of a row of town houdes

Beetle on a residential street in San Francisco

I was really feeling in from the day before. I’m not used to so much walking. We made slow progress to the Painted Lady, ornate pastel coloured houses, then to Haight and Ashbury on our way to Golden Gate Bridge.

I loved Haight and Ashbury! I treated myself to a small Smorkin’ Labbit figurine for my kitchen and found a nice blazer at Goodwill for $7.50. I was quite pleased!

It really started to downpour once we got to Golden Gate Park. We were hoping it would be a short spurt like all the rain we encountered yesterday, but it persisted. Matt was concerned about my limp, so we took a Lyft (like Uber) back to the hostel to check out.


golden gate bridge at sunlight

Baker’s Beach with a view of the Golden Bridge

After checkout, we went to Sushiritto for a sushi burrito. It was very good value! We got huge sushi rolls that filled us right up. By then our car rental was ready, so we took another Lyft to Hertz.

Keys in hand, we drove our little Mitsubishi across the Golden Gate Bridge, up to Battery Spenser, and to a couple lookouts along the cliff. Battery Spenser was pretty cool – abandoned military buildings and a great view of the bridge. We also went to Fort Miley, Cliff House, and Baker Bridge. I had an exhilarating time on the beach – I’d never seen waves so big in my life! They were huge!

We hit the road around 6:00pm. We had trouble finding a cheap place to stay, eventually settling on a Super 8 Motel in Salinas. I was exhausted and fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.


look out over the ocean at Cliff House

Lookout by the Cliff House


And now, to San Francisco!

photo of San Fransisco from above

UP & Airports

Matt and I took the UP Express for the first time which was exciting. For $9 with our Presto card, we got to Pearson in 25 minutes! I’d refused to pay the exorbitant price they were charging before the price drop – this felt like a real treat!

We left Toronto on a 8:30am United Airlines flight to Denver, which I spent devouring the book Station Eleven. We got to Denver early, but our connecting flight for San Francisco (SF) was delayed by 5 hours, which was a real pain as we’d paid extra to get a morning flight to SF. We stood on standby and were fortunate to get two seats on the 3:30 flight.

The flight to San Francisco was pretty spectacular. I started to watch the Sleeping Beauty, an Australian drama that had been on my ‘To Watch’ list for awhile, but the Rockies were so beautiful! Mountains covered with grey trees that looked like muddy magnetic sand in the snow, the creases and folds of the mountains as we ascended, the shadows, winding rivers and roads. I love seeing the world from above.

photo of clouds and mountains as see from an airplane window

Arrival in SF

Once we arrived in San Francisco, adrenaline took over and we giddily made our way downtown. A very helpful transit rep showed us how to use the BART ticket machines, knowledge we passed onto two European tourists who were also scratching their head at the screen.

We got off at Powell Station and upon surfacing, I was in bewilderment of the opulence, grandeur, and European vibe of downtown San Fransico! It was unlike any American city I’d been before.
ice on the window of an airplane

Hostel & Dinner

We dropped our bags at the Hub, an Airbnb hostel, did a bed bug check, then when in search of dinner. I felt very under dressed in SF in my jeans and black t-shirt. Everyone looked amazing! I was in constant awe of the people, the buildings, and the endless array of high-end boutiques. There were palm trees, flowers that matched their planters, and brightly coloured buildings. This place is awesome!

flowera for sale at Union Square

A friend of Matt’s had enjoyed a sushi-burrito in SF a couple days go, so we decided to go in search of Sushiritto. Unfortunately they were closed. Apparently a lot of restaurants are closed in this area on weekends.

We settled on a quaint little Italian restaurant with a bright red awning, white table cloths, and high ceilings. I had pasta topped with crab meat and Matt had mushroom pizza. We walked over to a nearby Ghirardelli where we shared a salted chocolate caramel sundae with a brownie. We were both in food coma after, so wandered back to our accommodation.

neon light signs outside an old parking garage

Matt got out the map and started planning out our day tomorrow. I curled up in bed, listening to the sounds of the street outside. Tomorrow will be a grand adventure!


birds eye view of 46th street, New York City

First morning in NYC

We woke up around 9am. We put on CBC Radio 2 on the hotel room’s Bluetooth radio and lounged around for a while before showering, listening to classical music. It took awhile for the water to heat up in the shower, and operating the shower was a bit of a trial, but after much squeals from unexpected cold water, I eventually figured it out.

Gregory’s Coffee

We started our day proper at Gregory’s Coffee, which was next door to our hotel, the Gotham. It had the best coffee in all of NYC, according to Yelp. I instantly gravitated towards the Cinnamon Blowout buns, then saw delicious smooth and granola bowls – we got one of each! I ordered a red eye and Matt had a black eye (double shot of espresso). The staff were pretty miserable, but the coffee was good!

Prep for NYE

Fueled up, we went out to run errands and scope out Times Square. The most important errand was picking up champagne for back at the hotel after the Ball Drop. I always enjoy going to liquor stores in other countries – the selection is always different than back home.

The prices, even in USD, were more than back home! Usually American booze is cheaper, but then everything seems more expensive in NYC!

We picked up a half bottle of Veuve Clicquot and the salesperson helped us pick out a wine. We got a NY white and took it back to the hotel to chill. We layered up, packed our day-packs, said goodbye to the cozy hotel room and headed to Times Square.

bottle of champagne on a balcony overlooking downtown New York

Times Square Take One

We headed to Times Square around 2:00 and after consulting a couple friendly NYPD officers, got to the front of the line at the 7th and 48th pen fairly easy. Sadly, we got turned away because our day-packs were too large. This was annoying as they were the size of a medium purse, with a shoulder strap – not a backpack! The Times Square website had said no backpacks or large bags – ours were neither! So, we headed back to the hotel.

We unloaded our day-packs to our coat pockets, and headed out again. We stopped in a diner on our way back, ordering mac ‘n cheese with a side of fried eggplant to share. It felt like a NYC experience – one of those makeshift salad bar/deli/pizza/hot buffet spots nestled between skyscrapers. Dinner cost us $8 too!

a crowd of people waiting in Times Square

Times Square Take Two

When we returned to Times Square at 3:00, it was much harder to get in. A lot of streets were already shut down. However, we managed to get ourselves down to 49 and 7th by following the crowd and weaving through the masses.

It didn’t take long to get in the pen. The police officers were friendly and cracking jokes with the spectators. I didn’t get checked, which surprised me, especially since I had my fur muff with me! Somehow, plenty of people in our pen had big backpacks too!

We settled in against the fence in front of Ray’s Pizza on 7th at 49th. This provided much entertainment as there were salespeople coming out of Ray’s selling cheese pizza for $25 and hot chocolate for $5. Unfortunately, there were no washrooms.

crowds of people in Times Square for New Years Eve

NYE in Times Square

It cooled down once the sun went down. I was glad we wore extra layers, however soon the cold got to our toes and fingers. We danced around and cuddled to keep warm. Fortunately, one of the event sponsors was handing out purple hats. Matt went on a mission to find two for us, aided by a kind neighbour who grabbed us two when they were handed out. The purple hats covered our ears, which was an improvement over my beret.

The stage was hidden from our view, but the NYE concert was being broadcasted on a small screen below the Ball. We couldn’t hear either. They really should have a live captioner at the event – we could barely hear a thing down at 49th Street! Real-time captioning, porta potties, and trash/recycling bins – that’s what they need for next year according to my books!

Somehow, I had gotten it in my mind that the ball would drop and smash into a billion pieces at midnight. Unfortunately (but for good reasons) this was not the case. The LED ball just dropped, accompanied by a million people and 6,000 cops counting down together as numbers appeared on a big screen overhead. The air was full of confetti, like colourful snow. Matt and I kissed, took pictures and video footage of the festivities, then headed back to our hotel.

After ‘Party’

It was surprisingly easy to get out of Times Square. We were back at our hotel by 12:30, including a stop at a street vendor for a chili dog and pretzel. Even a car crash didn’t deter our progress home – although Matt did stop to take a picture. It had a very cool accessibility icon after all (fellow #a11y enthusiasts check out the waving International Symbol of Access on the upper rear!).

accessible New York taxi after a minor crash on New Years Eve

Even at 5th and 46th street, confetti had made its way onto our suite balcony. Matt opened a bottle of champagne and we sat outside, amazed that we had survived the evening – 9 hours of crowds, cold, no water, or needing to use the washroom! That’s pretty damn impressive! I’m still amazed we made it through, relatively comfortably too! Go us! Yeah!

The Church Bells of Boston

I took the plane from Buffalo to Boston today to attend the Tobii Eye Tracking Conference on Human Behaviour. The flight and public transit to the hotel was fast and painless. Once I’d unpacked, I went in search of food. I hoped to find somewhere with WiFi, but in the end I settled for a WiFi-less old school pub by the park.


The pub made me feel like I’d gone back in time- it was if nothing had changed since the turn of the century (except the staff, clientelle, and the menu that is) I had a burger, sweet potato fries, some sort of cross between a pickle and a cucumber, and a pint of beer. They were out of Whaletail (I asked for a microbrew) so I settled for a pint of Samuel Adams, who’s brewery tour we’re going on Wednesday (they use eye tracking in rating the sucess of their branding and advertisements)

After dinner, I wandered around to look for a cafe and to get to know my new neighbourhood better. It’s kinda weird around here- it’s like a mutation of New York and Quebec City, but with lots of hills. There’s something so odd yet intriguing about this part of the city…


My hotel was built in 1923 and still has much of its old detailing- even the doorknobs are ornate! It’s right by an old church that was founded in 1630, and across from Old City Hall. Within my block, there are two old graveyards, stuck between all these corporate buildings. The juxtoposition of old and new is amazing.

Well, the clock just struck 10pm! The church bells are clanging outside. I will try and sleep now. I need to be bright eyed and bushy tailed tomorrow!

Quiet Reflections

Photo I took while at La Chute Montmorency on Friday.

Photo I took while at La Chute Montmorency on Friday.

I returned from Chicago this week. It was an enjoyable trip. My fondest memory was our first trip into the city. The city was so different from any I’d seen before! The amount of skyscrapers was overwhelming, particularly ones from the early 1900’s, which were all magnificent and well-restored. It was like you were walking back in forth in time, as the streets were such a mix of iconic architecture from various design-eras, past and present. It was so exciting!

I went to Quebec City three days after returning from Chicago. Nicole and I both had the day off work, and her friends from Austria were down, so we decided to rent a car and drive down. We went to La Chute Montmorency, which was just outside of Quebec City and stopped in a quaint little village along the way for lunch. We bought a fresh baguette and local smoked cheese from the town’s épicerie before settling down in the shade to merrily munch away. It was a very special moment.

I had a funny bicycle moment on Saturday, the day after my trip to Quebec City. As you know, my bike is a bit of a disaster, and the current problem is that it has been stuck in third gear for the past three days. This makes it rather a challenge to ride, and also makes me look rather silly when bicycling on flat ground. The only way to change gears is to go over a big bump, but none of the usual potholes have been working as of late.

Once at a stoplight, I got off my bike and lifted it up and slammed it down on its wheels a few times. An attractive cyclist on a beautiful bike stopped by and asked me if I something was wrong with my bike. I smiled and said “Oh, I’m just trying to change gears.” The cyclist had the most funny expression on his face and quickly rode off. It was then I realized how stupid I must have sounded- and looked!

Now I sit at home on a quiet Sunday afternoon. Its been raining all day, and the pigeons outside my window look very grumpy with all their feathers wet. So far today, I have prepared 39 resumes/coverletters to send out on Monday morning. Its always so exciting sending out a bulk of resumes! There’s such a feeling of hope that maybe one of these will lead to success… Cross your fingers for me!