It's been more than a day since I crawled out of Virgin Flight 19 into the San Franciscan sunshine, and I still can't work out whether checking-in online the day before was a good idea. On the plus side, I waltzed past the huge queues and through security in less time than it took to score a breakfast panini from the Cafe de Prix Enorme on the other side. A good two hours of messing around reduced to a few minutes of browsing the bookshops. On the non-plussed side, fellow hacks who did the traditional trick of arriving to check in at the last possible minute got rushed to the front of the queue and unforgivably upgraded, because by that time economy was full of people like me. They got 11 hours of legroom. I got a nagging feeling that I'd been too clever for my own good.
Still, here I am. The Intel Developer Forum awaits. As normal, it's running from Tuesday to Thursday; unusually, there's no big international journo briefing on the Monday. It's Labor Day, so tout SF is on a bank holiday and Intel is nowhere to be found.
Forced into tourist mode, I decide to behave accordingly. I wander down to the city's famous Fisherman's Wharf, noted for its aquarium. This has a large underground tank full of sea life: you can wander through the middle of it in a long perspex tube gawping at the surroundings. I am immediately in awe of the kaleidoscopic array of grotesque creatures that drift in all directions, staring eyes and gulping mouths mute witnesses to the strange ways of evolution. Are we really related? But enough of my fellow sight-seers: I came here to look at fish.
Later, I make my pelagic way to the world-renowned sea lion colony. Now, I've been on seal-spotting trips before. These normally mean getting on a boat, thundering through grey seas for hours to a distant isle where the captain cuts the engines and we try to drift close enough to a rocky shore before the nervous creatures catch fright and dive out of sight. Not so here. The sea lions are clustered in their hundreds on pontoons just yards away from the throng: they bask, they bark, they behave like teenage film stars. As well they might, with indefinite residency on some of the city's most expensive waterfront.
I didn't realise until the event itself that I'd never seen a sea lion defecate -- it's an unexplored niche of nature TV programming. I've certainly never seen any animal put on quite such a show of the event. The beast slipped into the water, swam up to the viewing masses, rolled onto its back, gracefully arched itself so that its flippers were out of the water and its head was underwater and pointing down at 45 degrees, waited for a moment, then let loose a torrent of liquid ordure. It was a bit like pouring a cup of coffee into a swimming pool, only with various chunky bits. I hope Intel can come up with something half as stylish and impactful over the next three days.