Archive for July, 2007

Work is odd.

26 July 2007 at 7:40 pm
by Berck

We have a week left. Then we’re unemployed. Some of us are more screwed than others. I think I’m in the “more screwed” category.

I haven’t done anything substantial to locate another job. I’m gonna tell you right away I can’t wait another day, Amanda.

Most of the folks I work with are not the same folks I worked with a year ago. There are probably only 6 people or so who have been there longer than I. I don’t really seem to get along with most people remaining.

There are no good options. Like a guiding light to help me through my darkest hour, lately I’m a prayin’ you’ll always be a standin’ beside me.

Nathan just asked me if I plan to study most of August. I answered, “Or maybe drink.” I really don’t have any good ideas. Job-hunting in August, for sure. The problem is that any job I take is going to make substantially less than Joanna makes now, and Joanna has no ability to get a good job anywhere else in the world. I don’t want her to work in a factory again.

In some ways, I feel like I don’t belong in the sky. Why should I get to sit above everyone else stuck in traffic? Why should I get to avoid the drudgery of pushing paper or the sweat of real labor? Sometimes I think maybe I should get a job turning wrenches or pouring coffee for awhile to put a little perspective on things. Then I remember that I decided to fly planes to avoid pouring coffee.

I’ve started thinking that perhaps I don’t even want the job that I’ve said I want. Maybe I’m not meant to have it. And from what you said, I know you’ve gotten over me, it’ll never be the way it used to be. But if it’s gotta be this way, then don’t worry babe, I can take the news okay.

I’m both excited and mortified about the fact that I have no idea what life will be like week after next. I worry that Joanna will become annoyed with me. In some way, I should be happy that I’m being kicked in the ass and need to do something different, because I might stay here a very long time. But this is the first time I’ve felt any substantial geographic inertia. I don’t want to move. I like it here. Sure, I might like it better somewhere else, but for once, I like it *here*. That’s never happened before. I’ve hated everywhere else. There’s a lot keeping me here, so it’s tempting to say, “Okay, then look for jobs here.” But, there aren’t really any. There are some crappy instructor jobs up in Denver, and I may apply for them. But instructing for half the money and driving in Denver traffic every day does not a happy Berck make. There’s something dark about destiny, there’s something blue about you and me.

There’s instructor jobs in Tulsa.

Escape from the Big Apple

26 July 2007 at 7:36 pm
by Jonah

I want to talk about what happened today, but I’ve got to finish up our New York trip.

So while we were at supper with Mike, I asked him to show off his new iPhone, which, of course, is what every iPhone owner loves to do. I heard on Morning Edition the day before they came out an interview with one of the few reviewers who got to hold and touch one ahead of time. Renee Montagne asked him, “So is it as good as everyone says it is?” and he answered, “No. It’s better.”

And it is. The screen takes up nearly the whole front of the phone. The phone itself is so thin. Everything is touch screen. If you’re looking at a picture you’ve taken and want to zoom in, you just put your thumb and finger on the area you want to expand and pull them apart, like you’re stretching the picture. Want to look at it lengthwise? Just turn the phone 90 degrees, and it moves the picture to be upright the way you’re looking at it as well (requires some gravity, will not work in space). You can browse the web provided you’re in range of an open wireless network. Google Maps is especially useful this way if you’re on the street. And of course, it is an MP3 player as well. I even told Mike something he didn’t know about it already (from the same NPR piece): pinch the ear buds cable once to answer a call, twice to ignore.

One thing I forgot to say about Google is that they have a couple of engineers working full time on Firefox. Isn’t that cool?

We only got a few hours of sleep before it was time to get up and head to the airport. Berck took pictures of me waiting for him to get ready when he should have been packing his shirt in the closet.
Waiting for Berck to Pack We rode the A train to JFK without too much difficulty (even though it arrived on a different platform than it should have; we just followed the bleary-eyed group of people heading to work down the stairs when the sound of the approaching train came from the wrong place).

Then we bought tickets for the overpriced AirTrain for the privilege of riding it around the airport. Security wasn’t too bad (nothing can be as bad as Hartsfield at 10am). The guy in front of us put a huge duffel through, only to have it be spit back out (knocking off the bags and trays of coins and shoes at the end of the line off the conveyor belt. “Sir, do you have any electronic devices in your bag? Please take them out and put them in the tray.” The duffel was full of CD’s. He looked a little worried but started pulling handfuls of them out until the bag was empty. I forgot to take my one quart Zip-lock of liquids out of my bag and put it in a tray, but no one said anything. Ha ha, I’ve successfully smuggled toiletries past the TSA. All it takes is a shifty looking guy with a duffel full of CD’s in front of you, I guess.

The worst part about going through security is that it takes Berck 20 minutes to put his boots back on.

We were the first people to arrive at the gate for our flight and sat there for an hour, so I think we allowed ourselves enough time. It was drizzling again that morning, even though the weather had been perfect for the last three days, pretty clear with a cool breeze blowing through the canyons of buildings at times. Our flight was uneventful. I even got to watch part of a Buffy episode on FX (the one where she and Faith trade bodies; is it wrong that I think Eliza Duskshu makes a better Buffy?). Have I mentioned that I like JetBlue? Then I watched a History Channel show about bootlegging and then one about cocaine, but I fell dead asleep watching it until they started serving drinks and snacks.

As we approached for landing, it was so nice to be able to see miles and miles of prairie without any buildings or people or sidewalks that constantly smelled of urine. And as we put the top down on the car and fastened our seat belts, it was nice to be able to go wherever we wanted, without Metrocards, without having to wait in subway stops the temperature of saunas (seriously, how hard would it be to put a fan at one end?).

I insisted Berck get a drink containing caffeine for the ride home because he was not reacting very well to traffic. We spent the rest of the day in a dazed fog, exhausted.

I weighed myself the next morning. I hadn’t gained an ounce, despite all the food I’d eaten. I guess all the walking worked it off.

I was surprised at how polite New Yorkers were. I mean, they’re certainly more impatient than the rest of the country, but they’re nowhere near the sheer inconsideration of Greeks (or most Mediterranean countries). People whispered, “Excuse me,” when they passed by you. Everyone gave you a proper amount of American personal space, thank goodness. New Yorkers are Americans, just like the rest of us, even if they don’t use credit cards. No wonder New York was known for muggings… you’ve got to carry a ton of cash everywhere you go!

There’s still trash everywhere in Sydney’s neighborhood, though other places aren’t as bad, and a street sweeper comes by pretty regularly (doesn’t get the sidewalk, though). Sydney’s neighborhood is slowly being taken over by white yuppies, and when it does, I don’t know where the poor West Indians and Arabs will go. I never felt unsafe (though after wandering the worst part of Athens by myself, I rarely do anymore), though that may have been because I was usually accompanied by a big man with a scary looking beard and a guy with blue hair. The trick to never getting bothered is to always look like you know where you’re going, and I always do, with Berck behind me saying, “Are you sure this is the right way? Are you? Are you? Why do you think this is the right way? What makes you so sure? Tell me!”

Still things are much improved since the last time I was in New York with my family in 1988. Then All the shop windows were covered in bars and those pulldown metal doors that were covered in graffiti overnight. We passed by dozens of vehicles on cinder blocks, cars that had stalled and had their wheels stolen before a tow truck could arrive. Dad stopped at a self car wash and had the plastic mats from our van stolen while he vacuumed our conversion van… not the mats that came with the van, mind you… the strips of plastic that he’d cut to fit down the van’s aisle. Everything Once you stole those, what would you even DO with those??? I don’t know if it was all Giuliani’s doing or partly the natural cyclical nature of things, but New York is not a crime filled hell hole anymore.

I’m glad my family went, though, since we got to go up to the top of the Twin Towers. On September 11, I kept thinking that I’d never taken Berck up there. He’d wanted to go to New York, but I tend to hate big cities.

Berck is right about the segregation in the city. We were always the ONLY white people on the A train going into Brooklyn, and there were NEVER any black people on the F train to the other part of Brooklyn, even though stops between the two trains are within walking distance for quite a while.

Another thing that surprised me is how reasonable the prices were for food most of the places we went. That may have been Famous Fat Dave’s influence. New York may be expensive, but at least you can eat. And eat well.

I’m getting a nice sized bonus this month (I get 2% of BA gross), which will help pay for our gluttony… and maybe even the plane tickets. And I’ve been going in to work a half hour early most days to make up for the four days I took off.

When you look at a political map of the US, NYC is as blue as it comes (see this post by Dave). Folks like Charles Schumer and Hillary Clinton (carpetbagger as she may be) are the biggest advocates of liberal issues like making sure bathrooms in every state are handicapped accessible. I’m not saying letting the physically challenged easily pee is a bad thing; my stroke afflicted grandmother couldn’t use a toilet unless it would fit a wheelchair, and I helped her many times. But I did not visit a single bathroom in NYC that was handicapped accessible, much less one that would fit a wheelchair. Most of them barely fit me; some you could wash your hands and pee at the same time, in case you wanted, with no room to spare. In a wheelchair and want to ride the subway? Good luck. It was a very rare station indeed that had an elevator in addition to the stairs. There are pictures everywhere of middle-aged in suits slipping down the stairs, saying, “Be Careful!” It just seems unfair that the folks where the most places live get to dictate to the rest of the county that a little mom & pop has to have a huge bathroom with a tall toilet and bars all around it or else can get sued and fined, while the big city is completely exempt, like any European city. I guess that’s the libertarian Westerner in me.

In any case we’ll be going back. We didn’t get done nearly enough, though we took a pretty good bite out of the Big Apple, I think. Maybe by then Sydney will be a rich and powerful lawyer and can take us out to the really nice restaurants. Or maybe I’ll finally get a chance to get a 50 cent hotdog from Grey’s Papaya.

Sydney was annoyed about the last photo.

26 July 2007 at 6:07 pm
by Berck

So I post this one in compensation.

Sydney is photogenic

26 July 2007 at 5:53 pm
by Berck

The Rotten Apple Day 5 (Mike was HILARIOUS!)

25 July 2007 at 6:36 pm
by Jonah

When I woke up Sunday, it was nearly 11. I went to take a shower and was relieved to see Sydney sleeping on the couch. Sydney and Berck had been dying to see the Transit Museum, so I found a place in Brooklyn to eat breakfast. Teresa’s is in a very nice, very trendy part of Brooklyn right by the County Court House. Everyone in there speaks with a Polish accent, as far as I can tell. We ordered all the different kinds of pirogi (excellent), some plain cheese blintzes (excellent), some home fries (very, very good), some challah French toast (quite tasty), and some normal pancakes for Sydney. Unfortunately, we nearly died of thirst because our waitress disappeared for about three quarters of an hour. Maybe she was hiding from the INS. They were really hopping, and we were pretty lucky to get a table when we did.

Berck had taken over the navigation duties, and he led us to the old subway station where the Transit Museum is flawlessly. We then spent the next three hours there as Sydney and Berck studied everything in great detail. Fortunately, they show a silent Harold Lloyd film in a theater, so I could sit and relax. Berck took dozens of pictures of the old subway cars, so I’m not going to go into detail about them.

We were finally done around 4 and walked to an actual working subway stop, then took the train to Chelsea to meet Sydney’s friend who works for Google’s New York headquarters. I can’t tell you how excited I was about this. We walked up to a nondescript building on 8th Avenue and called Mike, who appeared in the doorway shortly afterward.
Google NY He led us up to a nondescript front desk housing an imposing black man, who examined our drivers licenses and took our pictures with a little computer cam, then printed them out on sticky name tags that we adhered to our chests. Mike swiped his smartcard through the little glass gate that you could easily jump over, if you wanted to risk the wrath of the man behind the counter. We boarded an elevator and headed up to the 4th floor.

At the empty Google front desk (it was Sunday afternoon, after all), we had to electronically sign an agreement that we wouldn’t disclose anything deemed confidential… with a mouse. It printed out even more name tags for us, which we adhered to the other sides of our chests. Then Mike swiped his smartcard to unlock the front door, and we were in.

He led us to the game room first, basically a huge rec room with a big screen TV on which to play video games, a pinball machine, a couple of foosball tables, a pool table, an air hockey table, a dart board, a ping pong table, an exercise bike, and two massage chairs. There was only one massage chair there the last time Sydney visited, and she and Mike said there really should be another one right next to it so two people could sit in them and chat. The next day a second one appeared, so apparently, Google really is a magical place where just saying something makes it come true.

Actually, Google is a place that wants its employees to be really, really happy. Mike says he usually comes into work around 11, leaves at 7 if he’s got plans for the evening, or otherwise leaves around 11 to go home. He’s a lowly intern currently, so he’s trying to impress them (and is apparently doing a pretty good job of it) with his work on Notebook. He said that as long as you get stuff done, they don’t really care when you work, though that may just be for the engineers.

All the engineers get two huge flat screen monitors to work on or one ginourmous one, except Mike gets one huge one and one ginourmous one because he needs a Windows box to test his programming. Most of the folks there run Linux, though he says you can run whatever you want. And new employees are immediately fitted with a new Mac laptop. There are no cubicles; everyone works in a little area with three other folks who are all working on the same thing, all while connected to folks in California working on the same thing by a video conferencing computer that runs constantly.

If you need some privacy, there are dozens of little offices with just a desk, chair, pens, paper, telephone, and, most importantly, a door. If you run out of a particular office supply, there is a cabinet with whatever you need just outside in the hall. If you’re hungry, just head over to the nearest snack area. There you’ll find nearly every snack food or cereal you could think of in dispensers. Gourmet packets of chips are in baskets beneath them. The fridges are stocked with sodas, ice teas, flavored waters, lemonades, or whatever else you want. We each grabbed a drink while we were there. On the counters were baskets of every sort of tea bag and during the week fresh fruit. There was a coffee machine into which you insert a little canister, put your cup beneath it, and you have fresh brewed coffee in about 60 seconds. There’s also an espresso machine. And there’s a mini fridge just for any sort of white stuff you’d like to add to your coffee (or cereal): cream, whole milk, 2%, 1%, skim, soy milk, rice milk, or whatever else you want. There are tables and chairs nearby to sit and snack and play with Legos. Yes, there are tubs and tubs of different colored Legos and half completed projects scattered all around. There’s a Google logo on the wall made of Legos. There’s a wall of blocks that extends across three tables and off each end. There are portraits of Larry and Sergey made of Legos that Mike and his buddy made (I think he REALLY wants to work there when he graduates).

The campus takes up the entire 4th floor. They’ve nicknamed the different parts of the rectangle after the different parts of Manhattan. Printers are subway stops, and the part they use on the other floor is called Brooklyn. When we got to The Cloisters, Todd called to say he had finally arrived. “Quick!” said Mike, “Everyone grab a scooter!” There are scooters everywhere leaning up against the walls. We each hopped on one and were at the other end of the building in no time. (You gotta be prepared for when the tile meets the carpet, though.) We went down the elevator and waited on the other side of the glass gate for Mike to fetch Todd. “How will I recognize him?”

“He has blue hair,” the three of us said.

Todd went through the entire branding process, and then we hopped on our scooters once again to head back to the Bronx. Todd was getting up some good speed on his when he hit a rough patch in the floor and wiped out. It looked pretty painful, but he hopped back up and on we went. We got a drink for him in the snack bar and some more M&M’s for Berck. Scootering with a paper cup full of M&M’s is tricky.

Next we took another elevator down to Brooklyn (or maybe it was Staten Island) to the cafeteria. Of course, being a Sunday afternoon there was no one there and no food, but Mike showed us where everything would have been. Google brings in a famous guest chef from somewhere from time to time to whip up something gourmet. He said the burgers were amazing but it was hard to find French fries. There’s always something vegetarian, something vegan, and a fish. There is always desserts, but they’re in tiny portions so you’re not tempted to overeat them. Despite the fact that he eats as much as he wants for lunch and supper, Mike said he’d lost weight since he started working there because everything is so healthy. Oh, and organic.

We walked out on to the spacious balcony where you can eat your lunch and admired the view of Midtown and the Empire State Building. Around the edge of the balcony wall were planters full of fresh herbs, presumably for use in the kitchen. We were allowed to take pictures out on the balcony.
herb garden

We passed on visiting another floor with more of the same, although it has showers and will be getting a full gym soon (thus the showers). We also declined on using the bathrooms, even though Mike kept offering them to us. It occurs to me now that we may have missed out! I’m hoping they’re just normal corporate toilets.

There is also a big room with chairs and five screens that come down for videoconferencing with California, whenever they have a big event going on. There are also screens all over the eating areas, so you always know what’s going on (or maybe so they can know what’s going on with you as you slip a taste of Victory Gin).

Mike also showed us the corner where the IT folks hang out. Whenever you have a computer problem, no matter how small, you go to them, and Google has found a way to always keep them in the same place so you know where to find them. They’re the only people who get a Wii to play with, along with some other game consoles and a rack of DVD’s to watch. Mike pointed to the metal cabinets all along the walls of their cubby and said inside was any possible computer part they might ever possibly need to fix what ails you.

Out in the halls were an assortment of oddities, kind of like a museum. One hall had a series of ancient computers on pedestals, from an Atari to an Apple Newton, all of them on and working. Along the wall of the snack area was a long printout of the evolution of operating systems, which fascinated Berck. There were also white boards everywhere with encouragements to scribble on them. One was divided into quadrants: Left=Bad, Right=Good, Up=Permanent, Down=Temporary. So “death” and “taxes” were in the upper left corner. “Politicians” were in the lower left corner. “Battlestar Gallactica” was in the lower right corner, as was “physical love.” “Free food” was in the upper right, but that’s only for Google employees. Sigh. The rest of the board was filled in with all sorts of stuff where they should be according to the cross spectrums.

We’d seen about all there was to see, so we retired to the game room and played until it was time for Todd to catch his Chinatown bus home to Boston. We bid him adieu and took Mike with us to find the actual location of the Cuban/Chinese restaurant a couple blocks away. Alas, it truly did not exist, so Mike took us to an Italian place across the street from his office. Berck finally got his gnocchi, and the rest of us had some delicious raw beef. Berck ordered me the veal, which was good, though Berck deemed it excellent, and I was left with the rest of his gnocchi. Berck and Mike argued about computers, since Berck knows a lot about Linux and Mike knows a lot about lots of other things. Berck enjoyed this immensely. Then Mike went back to work, and we reluctantly went back to the apartment.

After all, we had to get up at 4 to get to the airport.