Category Archives: Daily

A post every day, or close enough.

Day 7: Reunion

I’ve been on the beach in the ThoughtWorks New York office ever since officially starting on Wednesday. So my days are fairly quiet, which is just as well, since I’m still shaking off the last of this jetlag.

The day in the office was fairly uneventful until I found out that some colleagues we’re going to visit the new office which is still being fitted out. I wanted to see it so I invited myself along 🙂

It’s great that we’re moving. I’ve only been here a few days but I can already feel the frustration that everyone else must feel about working in Times Square. There are too many people milling around that I need to push through to get into the building. There’s also not many eateries that aren’t targeted (and priced) at tourists. Fortunately, there’s quite a good cafeteria within the building but that doesn’t solve all the problems.

We also don’t really have any office space. We rent a few suites and must share the floor with at least a dozen other companies. The suites are small (and full, thanks to a recent trend for running projects in-house rather than on the client site) and the internet connection is just atrocious. I can only imagine what other problems the New York staff have encountered over the years here.

The new office, on the other hand, will be an entire floor to ourselves in an area of Manhattan known as “Silicon Alley”. I love that name! I also love the design for the new interior. There’ll be plenty of natural light and all the internal walling is being built to exploit as much of that as possible.

The other great aspect to the new office is that it has huge meeting spaces – actually, there are more meeting areas than actual work space! The idea is to use our new office to engage with the tech community – by, say, hosting code jams or other tech events. This is great in itself, but I was really happy when I heard that some ThoughtWorkers were already planning to use the space for movie nights or tae kwon do classes.

One of the criticisms I had heard about ThoughtWorks USA is that they don’t socialise as much as the Australian offices do. There are no Friday lunches, no refugee dinners, no craft nights, no social club budget…there are Friday night pub nights but that’s all as far as I can tell. So I’m glad that there’s a grassroots push by US ThoughtWorkers to have more social events in our new office. I’ve already had a few people get excited at opening a ThoughtWorks NYC chapter of Craft Night too 🙂

But, that has to wait a few more weeks until the construction is done. For now, I had to head to Penn Station to pick up a certain Kiwi! Hunter decided he wanted to try a cross-country train journey from Chicago to New York. Most people’s reaction to his plan was “….why?”, heh. I could understand why he wanted to do it, but I had done something similar in 2002 from Boston to Charlotte, North Carolina and it was NOT comfortable! For some reason, sleeper cars don’t exist on long-distance U.S. trains – and there’s no high-speed trains like in Japan or Europe either. So while he’s glad he did it, I think Hunter was also glad to get off the train at Penn Station after 20-odd hours 🙂

He was also hungry (and so was I!) so I consulted Foursquare and found a place nearby called “Burgers and Cupcakes”, hehe. We had to go check it out, just for the name. I was kinda hoping they would serve burgers that tasted like cupcakes, or vice-versa. Unfortunately, it was just a burger joint with an extra counter filled with cupcakes. Tasty food anyway 🙂

After dropping Hunter’s bags off at home, I took him to Times Square to see the night lights. We kept wandering further and wound up at the Empire State Building. This was Hunter’s first time to New York City, so ticking off two major tourist attractions in his first night was probably inevitable 🙂 I had visited the Empire State ten years ago but never at night time. The lights were pretty and we tried to identify all the landmarks by their lights.

On the way back to Hell’s Kitchen, we stopped by a place called Papaya Dog because Hunter wanted to know if they were selling a papaya-flavoured hot dog, heh. Sadly, no, just papaya juice and regular hot dogs. But it got me thinking about whether a papaya hot dog was actually possible. My charcuterie sense was tingling! I brought some cultures and casings to the States (weird, I know) so this could be a potential project…

Hunter wasn’t ready to retire for the night so we wandered around my neighbourhood for a while looking for a liquor shop for cocktails. But it was a lot later than we thought! All the liquor shops had closed (really, New York?) and all we could get was beer. Plan B then was a 24-hour dinner for Long Island Ice Teas and ice cream 🙂

It ended up being a really late night. We hadn’t seen each other in six months and there was a lot to talk about. I think we finally got to bed around 4am. The next morning was going to be a late start. Would it even still be morning?!

Day 6: Queens and a Hunter

Today’s weather was the nicest since my arrival in New York. Summer is definitely on its way. While at the office, Dave sent me a message inviting me to his place for a rooftop barbeque dinner. Perfect timing, as I hadn’t yet thought of what I would be doing that night.

But before heading to Dave’s, I wanted to sort out my phone issues once and for all. I had finally realised that my HTC Desire HD was the Asian model that didn’t support U.S. 3G frequencies. So I needed to get a new phone.

Without a social security number and U.S. credit history, I couldn’t get a contract. So I picked up a prepaid phone which I later realised was a CDMA phone with no SIM card. Which meant that after using it for a year, there was little I could do except recycle it. A waste of $165. It also had a pretty terrible value monthly plan compared to other providers (the moral of that story is to research online before going in-store).

So I returned it within a few hours (must be some kind of record) and decided to buy an unlocked HTC Sensation. It feels like an upgraded version of the Desire HD, plus it’s a quad-band 4G capable phone. Basically, it’s a permanent upgrade so I now have a secondhand Desire HD to sell, if anyone if interested.

Now I’m on a monthly 4G prepaid plan with T-Mobile that gives me more data and costs less than the Verizon prepaid phone I returned. The only downside is that it’ll drop from 4G to 2G data speeds when there’s no 4G signal or I’ve used my quota. Why not drop to 3G? It makes me a little nervous about how the phone will perform in Australia, but I guess I’ll worry about it when it happens.

Anyway, enough about phones. I had done all my phone business downtown and was enjoying the fact that I could now look up the route to Dave’s apartment in Queens when I received a text from Hunter saying he was considering visiting New York for the weekend. Cue a barrage of NY-promoting responses from me (paraphrased):

“The weather’s going to be gorgeous this weekend!”
“There’s a bar in Brooklyn filled with vintage video games and craft beer!”
“It’s NEW YORK CITY! Get your Kiwi ass over here!”

My arguments were convincing 😀

So I was in a great mood when I finally crossed the East River into Queens for the first time. The weather was gorgeous, I had a new phone, I was about to have dinner with an old friend and I was going to see another good friend for the first time since September.

Dave lives near the river and has a pretty impressive view across to the Manhattan skyline. His building also has a pretty garden rooftop, complete with BBQ facilities. We had raided the nearby grocery for delicious meats, cheeses and beers (the three major food groups) and had a tasty dinner with a few of his friends.

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One of the beers on offer was a watermelon beer. It tasted exactly like watermelon and beer. I’m still not sure if I liked the taste but the can design was striking (though I should never judge a beer by its cover). We had a great Drunken Goat Pecorino-style cheese which made up for the actual alcohol though. I’m really looking forward to trying more American cheeses.

Got home from Queens fairly late but excited. After all, Hunter would be in New York in less than 24 hours!

Day 5: Work, work (more work?)

Jetlag woke me up at 3:30 AM this morning. It seems to be getting worse rather than better. I’m sure most of that is self-inflicted though, given my frequent napping. I killed time online and with terrible television before it seemed late enough (ie: 6 AM) to get up and have a shower.

I knew I wanted to try the cafe a block away that seemed to have a real espresso machine. That would be breakfast. Yesterday’s Culture Cafe was nice enough but it’s a bit of a hike and maybe a little too fussy about coffee for my tastes. Because despite being a Melbourne native, I don’t consider myself a coffee snob. I just want an espresso from beans that aren’t burnt with frothy milk. That was easily satisfied in Melbourne. Here in New York though (and Japan too, now that I think back to my last trip), filtered coffee is the norm and it seems completely undrinkable to me.

Freshly showered and dressed, I left the apartment and headed to the cafe. It was pretty successful. Good foam and not terrible espresso. I miss having chocolate on my cappuccinos but I know there are plenty that would consider that heresy anyway. Bought a croissant with the coffee and it was all for less than US$5. That would easily be $6-$7 back home. Food in the U.S. will definitely be cheaper than home. I just have to find the good stuff.

After breakfast, I headed to the ThoughtWorks NY office. Today was my first official day in TW NY but I knew I’d be on the beach until they find a project for me. Hopefully I’ll find out what project before the end of the week. On the plus side, being on the beach would give me some time to get admin stuff done and recover from jetlag without having to be too coherent. But I needed to arrive after 9:30 AM to make sure that the office manager was around to let me in. So I check the time…

8:15 AM. What.

Damn this jetlag. Why am I awake and ready to get to work so early? And I’ve just had breakfast, so what else should I do for an hour? If I had mobile internet, this would be a non-issue. Just have another coffee and browse online. But I’m still without an American phone service. I wanted to find somewhere with free wifi. That ended up being a chain restaurant called Applebee’s. I ordered a second breakfast of bacon and eggs.

While waiting, I read a thread on Reddit about which brands or stores people refused to buy from again. Funnily enough, Applebee’s featured a few times. That was…not very encouraging. When my bacon and eggs arrived, the bacon was cold and the eggs were tasteless. Well, add my name to the list of people who will avoid Applebee’s. I suppose I should be glad I didn’t have bits of broken porcelain in my food. I really should’ve known better than to eat at some “family restaurant” chain anyway. I can’t wait to have mobile internet and Urbanspoon or Foursquare always on call.

9:30 AM rolled around and I headed to Times Square. I’ve already been awake for 6 hours. This was going to be a tough day. Working at the office wasn’t a big deal. I did the admin things I expected and met lots of new people – all very friendly. About 2 PM I was really feeling the jetlag again and succumbed to buying a Starbucks coffee. All I can say is: despite what their machines look like, they don’t make real espresso.

I had plans for dinner with Aussie and ex-Aussie ThoughtWorkers who were currently in New York. The jetlag was making me feel so horrible but I really didn’t want to miss this dinner. So I left work a little early to have a quick nap before dinner. At least, that was the plan. I managed to sleep through my alarm and only work up for my 6:50 PM Photo reminder – all of ten minutes before I was due on the other side of Manhattan – eeep! My 6:50 PM photo was of the awesome taxi driver who somehow managed to find the fastest route to Nolita where the restaurant was. He got a big tip, even if he thought I was Irish.

The restaurant was a cool little Latino concept place called Oficina Latina. The concept was centered around the Pan American Highway – a network of roads I didn’t even know existed until today but already I want to drive end-to-end. The dishes in the restaurant were focused on the specialities of the regions that the Pan Pacific Highway travels through. Lots of Central and South American cuisine. An impressive cheeseboard! And two new foods tonight that I haven’t had before: octopus and crab cakes. The octopus was tasty but I felt guilty about eating it. Cephalopods are such awesome creatures! They kinda deserve better than deep-frying.

An after-dinner drink at what looked like an awesome wood-fired pizzeria, and then I rode the subway home – my first New York City subway trip in ten years. It’s a fairly good system – certainly compared to Melbourne (why can’t we have nice things?!) and even rates well against Tokyo. At least, it rates well on this one short, slightly inebriated trip I took on a Wednesday night. I’m sure I’ll have more subway stories before my year here is up.

Now I’m home and much wider awake than I was 7 hours ago. I think I’ll try the melatonin tonight. I’m not keen on waking up at 4 AM again. I can’t wait to shake off this jetlag.

Day 4: Coffee and Reunion

Today was mainly a coffee expedition. I went to Culture Café in the morning where I heard some Australians ran the show. It was a little further away than I thought but still a nice walk.

Jetlag got me up early so I beat the morning rush. Coffee was okay but a little too strong for me. I’ll try half-strength next time and see if I can actually get the perfect coffee in NYC. Afterwards, I wandered around Midtown, admiring the buildings and Bryant Park.

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One nice surprise was finding that the corner of 40th and 6th was actually “Nikola Tesla Corner”. There’s nothing else there besides the sign but I will go there again on Nikola Tesla Day in July. The man was amazing, after all.

Dave messaged me and asked me if I wanted to catch up for dinner. We met at Island Burgers and Shakes where I was reminded of the huge portion sizes of meals in the U.S. Very tasty chicken though.

It had been nearly 3 years since I last saw Dave. He’s growing a rather impressive playoff beard for the New Jersey Devils (I think I got that right). But despite the long time between drinks, we easily fell into talking politics and sports (unavoidable, with Dave) and travel and beer. It’s going to be so great having him just 20 minutes away. He’s definitely going to be my go-to guy in NYC. Even if it does mean learning more about ice hockey than I ever planned to 😛

Anyway, for now, I should attempt a full night’s sleep. Tomorrow is my first official day in the NY office and while I’m not assigned to any project yet, it won’t be a good look if I fall asleep and faceplant into my lunch.

Ja, oyasumi.

Day 3: In which Magda battles jetlag and fails miserably

I had hoped that my “stay awake the entire flight” strategy would help stave off jetlag. In a way, it did. Usually, when I travel to the States, I’ll be wide awake in the middle of the night and it’s impossible to fall asleep again.

This time, while I did wake up at 3AM, it wasn’t too hard to fall asleep. The melatonin tablets must have helped. But despite having a few naps yesterday and a fairly decent night’s sleep, I was sleepy again all today. Caffeine failed me! I guess I only changed the jetlag affects I would get, not defeat them completely.

I did manage to get some tasks done today though. I visited some mobile stores and found out that any foreign phones won’t get fast broadband internet. I’ll be artificially throttled at 2G speeds. Fail. EDIT (17/5/12): It’s not artificial throttling after all, it’s just that my HTC Desire HD doesn’t use the 1700MHz band that is required by T-Mobile.

So it looks like I’ll be buying a new phone that I didn’t really want. I need to wait for my social security number though. On the plus side, I’ll be enjoying 4G speed on a U.S. phone.

Next was a visit to the ThoughtWorks NYC office. I was surprised at how it was really right in the middle of Times Square. One of the office rooms overlooked the New Year ball too! But we won’t be there for long. We’re moving to a dedicated office in an area of NY called “Silicon Alley” (I love that name!), so sadly, no awesome view of the New Year countdown for me.

Back to base via the Theater District for a telephone meeting – I’m not really a theatre person but after walking past all these posters and colourful lights, I am tempted to see a few shows. I already know that I want to see ‘Book of Mormon’ – apparently tickets aren’t so hard to get so long as I buy a single seat. That should happen within a few months.

Jetlag took over at this point and I slept through til 7:30PM (missing my 6:50 photo…oops). I headed out again and to a great little Mexican place right near my apartment called Toloache.

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I found it on Foursquare – actually, Foursquare has been brilliantly helpful so far. I found yesterday’s grocery store, today’s mobile stores and tonight’s dinner thanks to the app. As an added bonus, I got a free tequila for checking in at Toloache!

I ordered their guacamole trio, which included plain, spicy and fruity versions. Very, very tasty. I washed it down with the tequila while watching baseball on the TV…very American, heh. The bar was great and the staff super-friendly. This place could become my local.

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After dinner, I wandered back to Times Square to see all the neon. It was nice enough, but somehow, I prefer the neon in Shinjuku and Shibuya more 🙂 Still, it was a warm night and not ridiculously busy, so it was a nice walk.

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Tomorrow, I’m making “Find real coffee” the goal of the day. I think I spied an actual espresso machine a block away. I think I’ll browse cafés and do some reading for my Japanese essay. An easy day to get over the last of the jetlag before I officially start back at ThoughtWorks on Wednesday.

Day 2: Lost Luggage Edition

My luggage was delivered almost exactly 24 hours after I arrived in my apartment. It put a big crimp on my plans for the day.

I ended up spending it napping and unpacking my carry-on luggage, flicking through 500 cable TV channels (and still nothing to watch), then catching up on emails and napping some more.

After my luggage arrived, I headed out to the grocery store – I had been snacking all day on pretzels and desperately needed something fresh. Oh man, that avocado I bought was so good!

The grocery was a specialist organic/natural foods store, which I’m stoked to have just a few blocks away. The selection was massive – so much better than any organic store back home. This is one of the things I know I’ll enjoy about living in the New York: the variety and choice will be outstanding compared to Australia. I’m looking forward to trying out all these new products.

Back home, I unpacked the rest of my luggage and called it a night. Tomorrow, I plan to visit my new working office near Times Square and run a bunch of errands. Hopefully I can fit in some sight-seeing too.

Day 1: MEL » LAX » JFK

Day one of my New York adventure and it will undoubtedly be the longest. I have been experiencing May 12 for the last 36 hours and there are still a few left until midnight ticks over here in New York City.

I’ve been awake for most of the trip here – hopefully I’ll stave off jetlag this way. It was a pretty exhausting trip full of missing luggage and last-minute boardings…but was worth worth it just to see the space shuttle Enterprise – still mounted on top of NASA’s jumbo jet – parked at JFK airport! My mouth dropped when I realised what I was seeing as we zipped past in a yellow cab. She was so beautiful. Science is awesome 🙂

The view of the Manhattan skyline was also gorgeous but sadly my mobile’s battery had died, so I don’t have any pictures.

Now I’m in my home for the next year and I’m impressed. I’m based in Hell’s Kitchen – Deadpool’s and Daredevil’s stomping ground 😉 It’s larger than my apartment in Melbourne – I was expecting a shoe box in NYC. It’s modern and has a good kitchen – although I’ll have to learn how to use a convection oven! I’ll post a video of it soon.

Tomorrow probably won’t be an eventful day. I’ll need to do some shopping and wait around for my luggage. But hopefully I can take a walk around my new neighbourhood in the evening. I’m near the theatre district so there is plenty of nightlife around here.

For now though, it’s time for an extra-long shower and a good night’s sleep.