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Live from the city that never sleeps

posted in personal stuff on June 28th, 2008

One more day to go and my first four weeks in NYC will officially be over. Does not really seem that way from my point, because I can still remember the day when I go there:

On the day I left the Netherlands, I had to get up at 06:15 am, way too early for my taste, but thinking that it would all be for the greater good, I put up and made do.

After a quick breakfast, I was off to ’s Hertogenbosch Central Station, where I would meet up with a friend of mine who wanted to accompany me to the airport and wave her goodbyes.

Following a short ride on the train, we entered Shiphol Airport, which seemed to be quite an experience for my company, mostly because she had never been to an airport before, much less flown a plane.

The check-in was quite painless, with a friendly ground stewardess explaining, in great detail, where I had to go, once I arrived at London Heathrow and ensuring that I understood the directions. Makes me wonder if many people are actually able to get lost on that five minute walk…

The day before I left, I spent, I think, at least two hours packing stuff the right way and stripping out anything that would not be needed, and it paid off: once I entered no-mans-land and walked through the first checkpoint, one of the security officers actually complimented me on my packaging skills - score one for the home team I guess.

Another funny bit is that, since I am traveling with an Austrian passport, everybody felt the need to talk to me in German, which felt kind-of weird to me, but still: a great service.

The flight to London was easy, had a little chat with one of the stewards who talked to me about the planes that were already outfitted to allow cellphones during flight and how the plane we used was not yet upgraded to add this service. No child sitting next to me (in fact, nobody sitting in my row at all) meant a nice fourty minutes of relaxation.

I got a little bit freaked out when the pilot mentioned that the flight would take fourty minutes, because that would mean that I would be too late for my connecting flight and I kept stressing out until I arrived in London and finally realized, thanks to an announcement stating the local time, that the UK was in a -1 timezone. Phew!

Once in Heathrow, I made use of the instructions I got earlier and quickly found the gate where my plane to JFK would be departing from but first had to go through a security checkpoint (the fifth one at that point) where I was, once again, complimented on my compartmentalized packaging technique.

A lighthearted security guy frisked me (he skipped on the body cavity search though) and asked me for the address that I would be staying at during the first night. I had everything prepared the way it should have been (mostly thanks to tsa.gov and got through the whole ordeal in two minutes as opposed to ten (which is what the next guy took). Apparently, doing what the security officer asks you to do and not resisting can make it a whole lot easier.

During the flight itself, I discovered Virgin Atlantic’s in-flight entertainment system called v:port, which a selection of great movies and while consuming the food, a selection of chicken with mushrooms, pasta salad and pudding with 53% chocolate, I watched and very much enjoyed Into the Wild.

Some six-seven hours later, when we landed, people started clapping, which reminded me of the kind of audience you would expect in a Turkey-bound airplane. People, the pilot is supposed to land the plane, successfully; that is what we pay him (or her) for…

And quite a good pilot he was (or maybe just plain lucky): we got to JFK twenty minutes early, which meant that our gate was still occupied, so we just parked in the middle of a runway; if that ain’t pushing your luck, I would not know what is.

While disembarking the plane, I had a little bit of a déjà vu experience, the gangway which led us to the customs hall had the exact same ads as the one we used in Heathrow, even at the same spots.

Getting through customs was easy, the whole process not taking any longer than twelve minutes, of which I spent ten in a line leading to the actual officer. I was prepared for everything, needed nothing other than my passport and index fingers. Friendly and professional are keywords here. So much for the FUD most people tried to instill in me.

In order to combat jet lag, I decided not to sleep on the plane and complete the day/night cycle according to East coast time, which resulted in me, technically speaking, going for an all-nighter. Nonetheless, I woke up very refreshed the next morning and had, at that time, already adjusted to the local time.

The day after my arrival, Pak-Kei and me went to a few of the events that were part of the Internet Week New York, one of them being Mashable’s exhibit hall, where I discovered a couple of nice services (more on that some other time) and got rick-rolled by the DJ, which sparked quite a few laughs from the attending audience.

I also got to meet a few people from The Hatchery, which is basically an American Idol for companies, it would certainly be great to put those connections to use some time in the future…

As past of the Internet Week New York, Pak-Kei and me also went to a panel on Net Aesthetics and did some more stuff, like attending (yet another) “Diggnation does IT live” recording, where I even got interviewed, based on the fact that I was, apparently, the one fan that travelled the farthest of all attendees.

Shortly after that, the first semi-heatwave (we only had four out of the required five days to be actually allowed to call it a heatwave) of the year hit us, with temperatures averaging 32 deg. C (89.6 deg. F) and even peaking a whooping 37 deg. C (98 deg. F).

Once the heatwave was gone and our Internet uplink was restored, I finally got a chance to sit down and get dirty with the likes of CodeIgniter, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, IMEEM and Last.fm, in order to build what I came here to build.

A few more, noteworthy things are the thunderstorms (and lovely warnings that weather.com provides you with) and the home cooked style meals that are so fat that they can easily give you a cardiac arrest, but still taste amazingly good.

For some visuals, check out my gallery or my Flickr photostream.

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Saying goodbye

posted in personal stuff on June 1st, 2008

During the last week, I had a couple of meet-ups with friends and a tutor of mine in order to tie up loose ends and say goodbye in person to a

During the last week, I have had a couple of meet-ups with friends and a tutor of mine in order to tie up some loose ends and basically just say goodbye in person to those friends I will be missing the most.

While nobody cried (as far as I know), saying goodbye somehow never gets easier; thanks to the Internet, we will all be staying in touch of course, but nonetheless, not seeing your friends for an extended period of time does carry some emotional weight.

That said, a few friends of mine had a couple of really nice gifts for me; one of them being a picture frame with a touching selection of photographs and Jack even had a little speech prepared in order to prepare me for the trip; touching to say the least.

I also had the good fortune of being able to dine with a few friends of mine and talk about the past, present and future, my ambitions for New York and how I think it all will go. Very self-centered, but that is what goodbye-parties / dinners are mostly about, if you ask me.

One thing I realized remembered this week is how important and great friends can be and by friends, I do not mean contacts, but rather: real friends, those that will back you up, no matter what you set out to do and will try to support you to the best of their abilities.

One more thing I realized is that it is all about having the right friends and I think the best way to put it is to quote Nate’s grandpa:

If you go through life and can count on 5 good friends then you can consider yourself a lucky man.

And boy do I know that this is true, because friendship is not about the amount of friends you have, but about the quality of the relationship you have with your friends, it is about how intense it is and how intense you can make it.

That said, it is time for me to get some more packing done, because at this point, the countdown is at less than 48 hours and I am really excited to get to New York and start working with Pak-Kei.

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Working with the people you admire

posted in Internships on May 23rd, 2008

Let me tell you a story: a couple of years ago, back when I was still living in Austria, I discovered an application, called Trillian, a multi-network chat application that just worked.

Trillian was (and still is being) designed by Pak-Kei Mak, better known as kid, who, back then, was “just” a student who won a design competition.

Trillian’s design appealed to me; it was new, it was non-standard, it carried the mood factor and it had emoticons that, to this very day, make me smile (or frown, depending on the selected emotion).

Kid, besides being a kick-ass designer, also did some PHP coding on the side and created a script that would index a directory in the same (visual) style as Windows XP, and I loved that, as did Ben.

In fact, we enjoyed the greatness of said script so much that we basically created a clone of the whole indexer, distributed it amongst friends and made a few people happy with it, oh, and Ben and me close contacts of each other, often conversing long hours on the most interesting (or the most ridiculous) topics.

Fast-forward to January 2007, when I was invited to the Trillian Astra Alpha-testing cycle and decided, on a whim, to start a conversation with Kid, after all, this was my chance to talk to one of those that I admire.

One conversation quickly became many, admiration was joined by respect, advice, dare I say: (online) friendship? In any case, we felt that we struck a note with each other and we got along very well, so well, that Kid and I started working together.

At first, our collaborations only included brainstorms on various things, basically toying with ideas and sharing some dreams with each other, up until a point where I asked Kid to step up to the plate and design something for me. His work turned out great (more on that in another post) and we decided to continue our collaboration in the future.

A couple of weeks ago, when my first internship was entering the home lane, I had to make a decision: would I go for the medium or big company with the well-known name and earn a few pesetos but probably do stuff I have been doing the past couple of years, or would I go for the company that is not even a company but much rather an idea.

In my (professional) life, most of my choices have been about doing the thing that I am the most passionate about, I am interested in learning new skills and hone old(er) skills much more than I am in making a big buck (at least, right now) and so I went for the idea that I am passionate about.

From June 3rd, 2008 up until, at least, sometime mid-August 2008, Pak-Kei and me will be on a journey, a journey of exploration. We will be battling against many of the same things that (web) start-ups have to deal with and if bad meets worse on the way and they manage to get along well enough, we might end up with nothing but great experiences.

And in fact, the few people I discussed this with mostly told me, often in very specific terms to drop the idea of makin’ a big buck and just go work for an established company and be done with it.

While I value the input of the people around me, I believe that the following quote sums it up best:

He who tries and fails is wiser (and happier) than he who does not try out of fear of failure

And that is why I am going.

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