Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Great National Grid Rip-Off

I just got my first bill from National Grid the local gas company and they're ripping me off!

In the itemized section of the bill it lists:

In 10 days you used 0 therms:
Sep 23 2010 reading ESTIMATED -    3386
Sep 13 2010 reading UNLOCK -       3386
CCF Used for METER# xxxxxxxx          0

Thermal Factor                  x1.0183
Total therms used                     0

Your Cost is determined as followed
Minimum Charge                    $4.23

Blah blah blah....

What that means is that even though I've used some gas in that ten day billing period, they've given me an estimated meter reading of zero, and charged me the minimum.  Whatever gas I did use will go on my next bill...

What's would've been more fair is if they'd given me a somewhat realistic estimate (or a true meter reading!) in which I'd pay for what I probably did use.  If the estimate was too high, it would simply come off he next meter reading and be corrected.  If the estimate was too low, but still above the "minimum" charge then I'd simply make up the difference in the next bill.  Ideally, the estimate should be equal to or greater than the minimum charge.

But my giving a zero estimate they're charging me a minimum for what they say, on the bill, is no usage, and then I still get to pay for what I've used so far when I get the next bill.  This essentially means what I'm paying for this month goes towards no actual usage of their gas.

And with the 0 therms it's like their bill, translated to English says "we're charging you for nothing."  On which I'm still paying sales tax...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sunday - Wandering Brooklyn and Manhattan (again...)

After Leena called in the morning and we talked, I looked at the chunks of beef in the fridge and thought, "well, if I don't cook them soon they'll go bad" and figured I'd fry them up for breakfast.  I hadn't gotten around to buying any cooking oil or butter or so I figured I'd just toss them in the hot pan and let them fry in their own fat...  However, this isn't a nonstick pan, so they all stuck pretty bad before they got cooking...

I let them cook, flipping them around with a spatula until some were a touch burnt at the edges.  Whenever they were on a part of the pot where I'd already scraped some off, they stopped sticking, but when they touch another, new part, they'd stick and I'd have to scrape them off and back into the center of the pan again...  Once I figured they were finished I scooped them all out onto a stack of three paper plates and used one of my kitchen knives to cut them up and eat them.  Tasty, nice, wholesome beef with no extra flavors, all the subtleties that would otherwise get covered up.

I soaked the pan with some soap and water and almost all the burnt stuff scrubbed off.  I don't have a scrubbing sponge, either, or I'd get even more off.  Anyway, it's things like that that'll "season" the pan.  Good quality pots and pans absorb the oil, fat and stuff of things cooked and eventually cook better and smoother.  Or maybe that's only cast iron, not stainless steel...

After that I wasn't really full, so I looked up the address of the 5 Guys in Park Slope and went out on the subway.  It was easy enough to find.  I ordered a plain burger, which comes with two beef patties by default, and a single patty burger is a special order, a regular order of french fries and a regular drink.  It came to $12, and used up almost all the cash I have on hand...  For my drink I got a Cherry Coke, which wasn't very cherry, but I'd have continued to be curious if I didn't get it.  It took about ten minutes for them to cook my order and I ate it there.  The fries were a lot, their regular order of them is a small cup filled, and then since they always serve in a bag, even for orders that aren't going out, they then fill the bag above the food with fries.

Now that was a filling meal!

After I finished it I figured I'd better walk a bit to work some of that off.  I walked all up 7th Avenue until it hit Flatbush Avenue and then I walked along Flatbush until I got to the Atlantic Avenue / Pacific Street subway station, where I usually transfer on workdays between trains.

From there I hopped on a 3 train into Manhattan.  I got off at 59th Street and Broadway, which is just at the corner of Central Park.  I walked around the park for a while.  It didn't take long to figure out why I kept smelling horses as I walked along the outside of the park, there were lots and lots of horse drawn carriages going around inside the park.

I stopped at park benches a few times to cool off.  I didn't even bring my backpack, and just walking slowly and leisurely I was sweating pretty heavily.  There were a few small drops of rain here and there, but not a whole lot, and not enough to ever think, "ah, it's raining."

After walking a bit in the park I went back out to the streets, zig zagging around a bunch of Manhattan streets.  I passed the Apple Store near the park and there was a waiting line to get in because it was so crowded.  The store is all underground, I guess.  There's a big, glass cube as an entrance in the middle of a square on the sidewalk and an elevator and stairs going down into the store.

It was sort of dazzling to walk amongst so many huge buildings.  They just never ended.  Anywhere I stood there'd be tall, tall buildings in all directions, and then walk a block or two and it's all different tall buildings in all directions.

I passed by the Museum of Modern Art where I could see some interesting artwork in the windows, and thought about going in, but figured I'd check prices and things online.  Since I didn't think (and now that I've looked it up, I was right) it was free, I figured it'd be better to plan a day there rathe than just stopping in to cool off from walking hard...  But looking at their web site, I was walking on the street outside the window in the photo from that link...

Photographic evidence that my camera
(if not me) was in Times Square...
I made my way to Times Square and thought about getting an ice cream cone or something, but resisted.  I sat at a couple of places there to cool off before getting on the N train back to Brooklyn.

I also stopped at Bryant Park, which is quite close to Times Square and watched the pigeons there try to eat a piece of what appeared to be a pretzel, but it was too big for any bird to swallow and too tough to break apart easily...

The ride from Times Square to the stop by my apartment was long and crowded and I was barely awake by the time I got out.  There was some elderly guy sitting across from me who kept twitching and yawning and drifting between asleep and awake.  Whenever he was awake he'd open up his duffel bag and take out a small, black plastic wrapped, flask shaped, glass bottle and swallow a little clear liquid, then put the cap back on and put it away, then he'd sort of drift off again, twitching his hands...

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Saturday in Brooklyn - Burger Quest

I keep forgetting it's Saturday, I thought it was Sunday.  Too many days off in a row, I guess, without having gotten into the routine of things at work...

After Leena called on the phone, I ate a quick breakfast of some yogurt and cereal.  Then I got dressed and went up to the grocery store and bought most of what I need for the coming week.  It was so blazing hot out that my clothes were soaked through after just a three block walk (one block up, and two over) each way.  So I stripped down and took a nap for a few hours under the open windows (good thing I haven't bought a bed, sleeping on the floor means the low, open windows are above me).

Later when I woke up I was hungry, so I googled for "hamburgers Brooklyn" and it turned up a few.  One I saw was 5 Guys, which I'd had in Washington D.C. the night my cousin, Gary picked me up a couple of years ago and it was a good burger, plus they consistently get good reviews.  I used their store locator and found one 30 blocks to the south in the Bay Ridge neighborhood, and another 47 blocks to the north in Park Slope.

I figured I'd head south.  I walked a few blocks, then at 59th hit the subway.  The N train was at the R train's platform and I thought that with no R service in Brooklyn this weekend the N would follow the R's route.  But it didn't and quickly turned east...

Realizing it wasn't going to take me to Bay Ridge, I figured it was as good a time as any to go to Coney Island, the N train's destination.  My mother grew up in Coney Island and often tells the story of how when she and her sisters were kids there their mother made them wear sweaters, even in the hottest summers, to go out and east ice cream.  Plus I figured there's a famous Nathan's Famous there so I could get one of their burgers, and they have a good reputation (although they're more famous for hot dogs, which I dislike).

I got off at the last stop, Coney Island.  The signs on the platform pointed to Mermaid Avenue and Surf Avenue, which sounded like fairly likely destinations for a popular beachfront neighborhood, plus there was a salty smell to the air, like the sea, so I figured I was in the right place...

Out of the station the big Nathan's restaurant was right across the street, but the line of people was out of the restaurant and all over the sidewalk and I thought "no way". So overhead I saw some of the old, famous Coney Island rides and walked in that direction towards to the famous boardwalk.  There was another Nathan's there, but another line, and they didn't have any seats.  I walked up and down the boardwalk, sweating like mad, and then saw another restaurant, The Grill, advertising burgers and knishes so I figured I'd go there.

The knish was just what I expected, a delicious treat, one of those things we used to eat all the time on the east coast, especially when my Mom and her sisters took me and my cousins to the Woodbridge Center mall, but we rarely ever saw after we moved to Oregon, and most of the ones on the west coast weren't the same style as the east coast.  The burger was disappointing, though, it tasted like it was already cooked and sitting in a hot pan of water, sort of like the old college cafeteria did.  Still it was $3, compared to yesterday's $17 one at T.G.I. Friday's that was definitely not five times better (better, yeah, but not that much).  I had a can of Coke to go with it as well, but couldn't get a table in the shade as some woman already had that one...

Taken with Hipstamatic
for the iPhone 4.
After I finished I found the public restroom then took the N train back up towards my apartment.  While the train was waiting at the station I played a bit with photographing the inside with all the shiny chrome, vertical posts for people to hang on to.

I was the only one in the car for the first two stops, then a kid got on, and another stop or two kept filling up and eventually a gigantic, huge, fat lady sat next to me until I got off...

I hung out in the apartment for a little bit, then when it got a little cooler I packed my backpack with the good camera and headed up to Sunset Park to see if I could get some better photos than I got yesterday, like at least one with the Statue of Liberty visible.  I did, too...  I took a bunch of photos from up there, took a few of some gigantic cruise ship leaving the harbor, and some of the Manhattan skyline.

Then I walked around Brooklyn in that general area a bit before getting back to the apartment and taking a nice, much needed shower.

So, that's about how today went...  Hopefully tomorrow's weather will be better, and not so blazing hot.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Friday Over the Brooklyn Bridge

Well, today was a bit busier than yesterday, when I got dressed, went out and walked about three blocks before the sunshine and terrible heat beat me down and I went home to nap all afternoon and then early to bed.

I slept in pretty late, then got dressed and headed out with my camera.

She's there, a faint shadow almost
perfectly centered in the photo.
My first stop was Sunset Park a few blocks from my apartment where I sat on a bench for a while and took some photos.  Unfortunately, it was foggy in the distance, so I can't actually make out the Statue of Liberty in any of the pictures from there.  I could see it with my eyes, but none of the photos have enough contrast to see it.

The park was pretty crowded with lots of families with children, and middle aged people running in circles around the park on the paved pathways.  Lots of pigeons, too.  At one point a flock of a hundred or so all landed on the ground around me, then something (not me!) spooked them and they all took off at once.  It was weird being in the middle of the flock, I could feel the wind and the beat of their wings as they flapped to get into the air at the same time.

After I'd cooled off from that walk, since it was two blocks uphill, then a few blocks across, I headed out again.  I walked a few more blocks to get the subway at 36th Street, which I took up to DeKalb Avenue, one stop past where I usually get off on my way to work.  At DeKalb Avenue I read the map to see which general direction I had to go for the Brooklyn Bridge.

It took some wandering around to actually find the pedestrian access to it.  Or maybe I just took one wrong turn first...  On the sidewalk I bought a pretzel and a bottle of water from a vendor, who seemed taken aback that I wanted a water bottle from the display instead of an ice cold one, then I found a seat near the beginning of the bridge to sit down and eat it.

Once I finished I took out my camera and took lots of photos while walking across into Manhattan.  Lots of others, too, were stopping everywhere to take pictures.  One downside is there was construction or repairs going on, so lots of posts were sticking up, obstructing the view in one direction, and a whole wall in the other.  Then, between the towers, the walkway view was blocked on both sides by temporary walls put up for the construction.

I liked the various patterns of the cables suspending the roadway when viewed from in between them on both sides.  That was cool...

Over in Manhattan I wandered around the area a little, by City Hall, then took the R train under Broadway up to 42nd Street and wandered around Times Square for a while.

It was busy and crowded around there, so many people, and the sun was shining almost perfectly up the Broadway from the south so it was very hot.  I didn't see much that struck my interest in terms of taking photos, so no pictures there.

I stopped in at a T.G.I. Friday's for a hamburger, which turned out not bad, but extremely overpriced ($17 for a simple hamburger!)  It wasn't on the menu, I had to ask for it, but everything else in that price range on the menu was so much fancier I didn't realize a plain hamburger could be the same.  Now I know...

After lunch I was cooled off a bit again and went back out.  The service was kind of slow, so by the time I hit the street again the sun had swung around a bit and wasn't blazing to bad, with the buildings providing more shadows.

I didn't really know what to do, it seemed too early to head home to Brooklyn, but my clothes were soaked through with sweat and rubbing my skin uncomfortably.  So, I walked a little way down Broadway, down to Herald Square, stopped at a table there and wrote in my journal for a few minutes, then took the subway back to Brooklyn.

Back home I took a nice, hot shower, then a nap for a couple of hours, only to be woken up by the Good Humor man...

Later in the evening the Good Humor man's truck broke down in front of the apartment and another one came to give him a jump start.  They parked in parallel, blocking traffic and it took long enough for cars to back up all the way to 4th Avenue (okay, that might only be four or five car lengths) with drivers honking and people yelling "hey, fuck you man!" over and over...  Quite a disturbance.  Hopefully soon enough the weather will cool off and there won't be the Good Humor ice cream trucks driving around (although personally I feel sub freezing weather is the ideal weather for ice cream, as you can eat it slowly and not have to rush because it's melting...)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Star Wars - Tarkin

Last night I watched the classic, Star Wars, or renamed A New Hope, again.  One thing that I wonder about is just how bad-ass is Tarkin?

He must be pretty powerful, if not in the Force, at least within the empire's military because it's hard to imagine anyone else, except the emperor, referring to Darth Vader as "my friend" like he does when the topic of Obi-Wan Kenobi being there and he says "the Jedi are all but extinct, their fire has gone out of the universe.  You, my friend, are all that's left of their religion."  Darth Vader doesn't seem like he'd be a "friend" to anyone...

But possibly more telling is the scene earlier when he orders the destruction of Alderaan, he's with Princess Lea and Darth Vader.  In part of that he threatens Lea and she backs away from him, and right into Darth Vader, who I'd have thought would be a far more frightening character.

On the other hand, although neither of them knew it then, maybe she subconsciously sought her father for protection from Tarkin...

More Shopping ... Some Success, Some Failure

Whew, a busy day today and I'm tired, physically...

After Leena called I got dressed and went out.  I took the subway up to 9th Street & 4th Avenue and walked up to the Brooklyn Industries store on 7th Avenue and bought the backpack I'd been eyeing online (the one I've been using since 1992 is getting worn out, especially the zippers, plus threads keep unraveling from the nylon inside and jamming the zippers, but it's served well and I've hauled it all around the world).  It was high up so I had to get a clerk to help get it down for me, then I tried it on and it felt comfortable so I bought it.  It's definitely not as big as my purple one, but well suited for a lot of the shopping I'm doing, where I don't need to the bigger capacity.  It feels a bit more comfortable on my back, as far as the material, so I don't sweat quite as much.  When I bought it, the clerk put it in a shopping bag that's pretty cool, too, a heavy plastic one with the Brooklyn Industries logo and handles.

From there I found that Barnes & Noble I tried, and failed, to find yesterday after work.  Their computer programming section wasn't very big, but I found a one book that I was looking for in particular, about iPhone software development, so I got that.  And a few others, as well...

Then I wandered around that neighborhood, Park Slope a bit before taking the subway back to my apartment to drop things off.

Ah, one of the tastes of my
A quick trip up to the grocery store netted some ice cream sandwiches I really miss (I like the cheap, generic, store brand ones, they're just more pleasing to me than the fancy ones), a jar of the chocolate milk mix that was my favorite when I was a kid in New Jersey years ago (Paul used it at Paul's Luncheonette, the diner right next door to the auto parts shop my father and grandfather ran), a small box of fresh chocolate eclairs and a raw steak, as well as a few other misc. items...

I brought all that back home, rushing along the crowded sidewalks to get the ice cream into the freezer before it melted..

Then I headed out on the subway to Manhattan intending to shop at the Apple store.  I figured I'd look for the neoprene laptop sleeve Leena wants as well as what I wanted, a set of speakers for the iPhone, iPad and MacBook that sound better than what's built into any of them.

I got off at 14th Street and Union Square, where I did last time, and it was super packed with people for a fair or market going on.  I got out of the subway on a different stair case than last time and was completely lost until I walked around the outside of the square almost all the way, and then recognized some of the buildings and got my bearings.

The walk to the Apple store was long, again...  On the way I stopped in at a liquor store and found a bottle of Viking Blod mead so I got that...  I haven't opened it yet so I don't know how it tastes, should be good, though.

At the Apple store I looked at a bunch of the speakers and just couldn't make up my mind.  No one offered to help me try them out.  I looked at the sleeves, but the only ones they had in stock were pink and black, the two colours she specifically said she didn't want.

After that I spent a while wandering around 14th Street and a few blocks up or down from there, just checking out that part of Manhattan...  I wasn't sure which trains to take to get to any of the other Apple stores.  One thing cool with the iPhone 4 is on 5th Avenue I happened to open up the notes I wrote earlier, including the 5th Avenue address of the other Apple store, but it highlighted 5th Avenue as a link to show me what was nearby, based on my location being on 5th Avenue (but many, many blocks from the Apple store).

I tried a couple of times to buy a pretzel from street vendors, but each one was so busy yacking on his cell phone that I couldn't get their attention to make a purchase.  I wonder if they realize they're losing business by not paying attention.  Actually, last weekend when I got one, the guy was so busy with his cell phone conversation that he served me a hot dog instead and I said "I said pretzel, aren't you listening?" but he didn't react, just kept on yacking on his phone and put the hot dog back and got a pretzel...

I went to a Best Buy store as well to look at electronics.  They had a nice sounding set of speakers, from Klipsch, a company that makes high end stereo speakers and I'm giving it some thought.  I may look up reviews online of all the ones I saw and see what people in general like, as far as sound quality, then go back tomorrow.  They didn't have any 17" sleeves...

Around 5:30pm or so I took the subway back to Brooklyn.  The train that goes under my apartment is the one I took to Manhattan, so getting back was easy enough and I got out right at my block.

I dropped off my backpack and picked up my dry cleaning ticket and went back out again to pick up the clothes I left for cleaning on Thursday, but they hadn't returned to the shop yet.  The guy there said they should have them on Monday.  Unfortunately, that means I have no clean pants for work on Monday, because I gave two of the three pairs for cleaning and I have the remaining pair, but I wore them all week and then walking around yesterday and today, so they're definitely not even remotely clean...

The first steak I've cooked
in at least ten years...
Back in the apartment I took a nice shower to wash off, then cooked up the steak for dinner...  Not bad, the first steak I've cooked in like ten years or so.  I enjoyed it immensely.  Of course, for plates all I have are the paper plates a previous occupant left in the apartment, and the juice from the steak soaked through that quickly and I had to clean the counter up...

Now I'm just relaxing...  It's 9:40pm.  I'll probably go to sleep pretty soon, or maybe I'll watch The Empire Strikes Back...  I'm exhausted and I still want to shop for some speakers for the computer tomorrow so I can have decent sounding music in here...

Monday, September 13, 2010

First day of the new job...

I got up early, showered, had Cheerios and Silk Chocolate soy milk for breakfast, then did the washroom thing, got dressed and left for work around 7:30am.  The workday starts at 9am, but I wasn't sure just how long it would take to get there...

The Atlantic-Pacific subway station, where I had to change trains, was hot, very hot, like an oven in the tropics, so by the time I got out at my stop I was sweating like mad.  And I still had a six or seven block walk, mostly downhill, to get to the office. 

When I got to the office, around 8:05am, the grill was still down and blinds covered the windows so there was no way to see inside, and obviously, no one was there.  There's no company name or anything there.  Since Yishai had given me two addresses, one that the company will be moving to later, I figured I'd go up and check that out, in case they'd actually moved already.  That was six or seven blocks up the hill, pretty close to where I got off the train, but it was just a construction site and looked unfinished.  So back down the hill again.  

At the office I was sweating so much my clothes were soaking through...  The grill was up, so I pressed the doorbell and some guy came to do the door.  I asked "is this" and he asked, pretty gruffly, "who are you?"  I told him who I was and that I was starting with the company this morning and he became quite friendly.  He let me in, gave me a quick tour (it's not a big office, there's the admin and sales section, and the techie section, maybe a total of a 12-15 desks) and we chatted a few minutes.  He gave me his phone number to give him a call if I needed anything here in New York City.  But then he had to get his day's work started...

People started coming in slowly and soon Yishai, the guy I interviewed with, showed up.  He found the computer he'd left another developer to start setting up for me last week and gave me a choice of desks, either under the air conditioner or by the window (although the cubicle walls block much view except the trees and sky high up) and I picked the window, since by that time I was getting fairly chilly in my wet clothes...  

We spent a little time getting my computer set up, but then he had a lot of things to take care of.  He showed me where to find some information on our software and said I should shop online for my new work computer and sort of let me to it...  It was pretty overwhelming to be told to just shop for my new computer with no details of specs or a maximum budget or anything.  Always before I've just been given whatever computer the company had to give me, with almost no choice what-so-ever.

Around 3:30pm we had a meeting in which he went over in some detail how the software is used, who the people are who use it and what they do with it, so that helped a lot.

I left the office around 5:30pm and it was a fairly easy set of train rides home.  I just missed one train at each station where I had to catch one, so I had to wait a little longer.  Getting out of the 53rd Street station I saw a bright flash, and there was a pleasant thunderstorm for a while around the neighborhood.

And now it's almost bedtime...

Saturday, September 11, 2010

New York City vs. London

Now that I've had a few days to hit New York City, I can compare it to London a bit, where I went on all the weekend days.  Maybe I didn't see all of London, but most of NYC, which is mostly Brooklyn, that I've seen so far is more "gritty" and dirty than any of London I wandered around.  The few blocks of Manhattan I saw was an exception.

The NYC subway is far dirtier and run down than the London Underground.  At each of the NYC stations I've been to the paint is peeling, there's lots more exposed iron girders and pipes and exposed wiring, giving it a more industrial, less finished look, while on the sides opposite the platforms there's lots of places with tiles falling off the walls, and lots of water dripping from the ceiling down onto the tracks, even though it's been bright and sunny without any rain.

The tunnels are all bigger than London's so when trains come there's little of the "breath of the dragon" (as me and a former teammate called it) like in the Underground, but the trains all make a horrendous, deafening clattering and clanking as they come into the station.

The maps and routes seem more confusing than on the London Underground, although that could be because I don't know it as well as I did after a few weekends in London.  Or maybe NYC is a more geographically complex city, made up of several islands, and the subway lines don't have names indicating where they go, they're all single letters and digits, like near my office's neighborhood there's the 2, 3, 4  & 5 trains, but the R line runs near my apartment (while the Q and N lines run past but don't stop).

So that's just a sort of first impression...

Shopping for Home Items

Well, today was a busy day, and not a whole lot got done...

I stopped by the apartment with a backpack load of stuff, just to make space in my suitcases for the dirty laundry that's no longer nicely folded and takes more space.  There was a paper from the landlords with a "welcome to the neighborhood," some instructions about the doors and basic information about garbage disposal and stuff, with a bottle of red wine to hold it down.  They'd opened the windows last night as well, so there was fresh air inside the place.

Then I took the subway into Manhattan.  I wrote down the addresses of the four Apple stores in Manhattan (none in Brooklyn) and the one on West 14th Street was the easiest to locate on a map and match up with a subway stop, so I aimed for that first.  A mariachi band got on at one the stations and played some songs while moving up the car and the doors to the next one.  I got off the subway at 14th Street and Union Square, where there was a weekend fair sort of thing going on, people playing music, vendors selling lots of fresh made snacks and things.  Across the street I saw a Bank of America so I popped in to the ATM there to get some extra cash.

Then I headed up the street to look for the Apple store, and went the wrong way.  It took a bit to realize I was going east on East 14th Street, but once I noticed the shop address numbers and matched that with the direction of the sun (still morning, so the sun would be south with a bit of east) I realized it and turned around.  It looks like 5th Avenue divides east from west on the streets.

Unfortunately, west of 5th Avenue the blocks were gigantic, so even though I only had to go four of them, it was quite a long walk.  The Apple store's sign was sort artsy, and in the bright sunlight and a little dazzled and tired, I kind of missed it and walked an extra block too far.

Once I realized that I turned around and went in.  I asked at the entrance for iPhones and the workers sent me up to the second floor (first floor by Indian counting) where Gemma asked if I needed help.  I told her I wanted an iPhone and she went over the plans and all that.  She was quite helpful and fascinated that I'd just come back from India.

Towards the end, she had to call AT&T to activate the account, and they asked her to put me on the phone, which was something she'd never experienced in selling iPhones.  The AT&T woman said she would ask me a few multiple choice questions and I should give the best answer.  First was which mortgage lender held the mortgage to my property, and I said "I don't have a mortgage".  Then she asked something else about another financial loan and I said "I don't have a loan," and Gemma looked pretty puzzled about the half of the conversation she heard.  I thought for sure they'd looked up the wrong Kevin Rubin in some database.  Finally, the last question was "in what state was your social security number issued?" and I said "New Jersey" and the AT&T woman said "congratulations, you've answered all the questions correctly."  So, instead of mistaken about me, they were trick questions to verify I was me and not someone else pretending to be me.  Gemma speculated that having been out of the country the credit report AT&T had on me to activate it was probably too empty, since I wasn't paying bills or anything in the U.S. for longer than 7 years, so they wanted some extra verification.

So, I got the iPhone 4.  It seems pretty cool so far.  The screen is very, very sharp.

After leaving the Apple store I had a long walk back to the subway station at Union Square.  I stopped in at a Red Mango shop for a green tea frozen yogurt that was pretty tasty.  I stopped there for a while and wrote in my journal a bit.  While I was doing that I faced out the window to watch traffic go by.  At one point a black Lamborghini sports car stopped in traffic, and five or six people all whipped out their cameras to take photos of it, including a guy on a motorcycle who took one next to it, then backed his motorcycle up to get more shots from different angles.  Then the light turned green and they all left...

From there I went back to the apartment (the other night I was talking to the realtor about not having any recent rent payment receipts or check stubs because "we own our flat in India" and she said she liked how I called it a "flat" it sounded really fancy and foreign, and she said she had an English friend who told her not to refer to her flat in London as an apartment or people will think she's extremely posh).  I used the phone to call my parents.  I'm not clear if it's just a bad signal in the apartment from AT&T or if I had the iPhone antenna problem, but they could only hear me if I stood in one part of the apartment, and the call got dropped twice...  Not a good start...

It was also kind of loud...  Yesterday I'd noticed the signs posted on the street about no parking on Saturdays.  Today the street was blocked off at both ends with police barricades and a whole block party was in action.  Many, many families out, kids playing all kinds of games in the street, one family had their stereo outside, pumping out Mexican tunes, and a huge barbecue going on in front of that one.

Once I got off the phone with them I headed up to a nearby grocery store.  It was small, without a huge selection in most departments, but had many of the basics I wanted, like Cheerios, some yogurts and Silk chocolate soy milk.  I bought paper towels, soap, shampoo, 409 spray cleanser and dish soap.  Someone left paper plates and plastic knives and forks in the kitchen already, so they were less urgent.  I dropped those things back at the apartment and went out again.

This time I wanted to find several items:

  • pot
  • pan
  • coffee mug
  • pillow
  • sheet
  • blanket

And those things are hard to find there.  I checked in a lot of stores but none of them had any of those.  Up and down, no one had those.  Some people were selling stainless steel pots and water filters on the street and I asked one of them.  At first she said "they're stainless steel.  You do know what stainless steel is?" and I said "yeah, I know what they are, I'm more concerned with can I buy it now and take it home?"  She went on to explain that the water filter "holds 50,000 gallons of water" and I stopped her to clarify that it doesn't hold 50,000 but will filter 50,000 gallons before it needs replacement and she agreed to that change.  Unfortunately, they only had demo models, and would ship the real ones to people who buy them, so I told her that wasn't really the time frame I was looking for, thanked her and kept walking.

Eventually I decided to call it quits for the afternoon, stopped and got some pizza slices and went back to the apartment to pick up my backpack and head to the hotel again.

The R train to Atlantic-Pacific was easy, but this weekend the 3 train isn't running at all, and its routes are being serviced by the 4 train, but that meant the 4 train came on a different platform than usual, so I waited on the wrong one until I saw one, but didn't make it down the steps and under the tracks fast enough to catch it and had to wait for the next.  And it was hot down there, like an oven.

I got off the train one stop earlier and took some time to find my office so I'll be ready for Monday.  I know where it is now...

So, I'm back at the hotel.  I had a good shower after being so hot and sweaty and I don't think I'll be up late tonight.  I'm tired and I need an early start tomorrow.  For those missing items I think I know where there's a Target that'll have all of them, right near the Atlantic-Pacific subway station so I can check that out.  It's just one train from my apartment so I can do that after I check out of the hotel and get my suitcases into the apartment (that's going to be a bit of a challenge, they're heavy and it's a steep, narrow stair case, but I can take them one at a time into the building, then one at a time up the stairs).

Friday, September 10, 2010

Signing an Apartment Lease

So, all that work looking for an apartment yesterday didn't work out quite right.  I called the broker late this morning to find out the status and she told me to call another agent at the same company, Mark, who was the one to contact the landlord.  The landlord, however, is Jewish, and today is a major Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashanah so he's not doing any business.  Mark said Monday would be the earliest the landlord could possibly look at the application.

I told him that didn't work well for me, since I start my new job on Monday and I want to focus on doing a good job, not spending all day worrying about apartments and mounting hotel charges and all that sort of stuff.  I asked him what he could do for me.  He said he had one apartment in the same neighborhood, Sunset Park and said he could show it to me and that he knew the landlord quite well and could easily rush things.  I agreed, and he said to meet there at 2pm.

I looked up how to get there and it didn't look too bad, although the two times yesterday I took the subway anywhere on my own I made mistakes, so I figured I'd better leave a little early to be safe.

Out on the street by the hotel lots of well dressed people were going to the church across the street and some preacher was on the steps with a microphone and PA system preaching.  For several blocks up to the Utica Avenue station women were out trying to give me tracts, which I politely declined.

I got to the apartment around 1pm, with plenty of time wander the nearby neighborhood.  I found the right address and it was a nice, clean brownstone building that looked in good shape on the outside.  I liked it instantly.

It's between 4th and 5th avenues (I don't know if I've lived anywhere else where street vs. avenue was significant, it'll take some getting used to) and I wandered up to 5th.  Lots and lots of shopping all up and down, lots of people all over.  Very mixed ethnically, but Spanish seemed the predominant language on business signs (including many of the Chinese restaurants).  Lots of places to get pizza by the slice, lots of small grocery stores and not very many chain stores.  I liked it.

By 1:45pm I waited outside the apartment until Mark showed up.  He was dressed more casual than Brian was yesterday, but he quickly asked if I was Kevin and introduced himself.

I was disappointed by the inside of the apartment.  It wasn't one that had been recently renovated like all the previous ones I saw, so the kitchen didn't have shiny, new stainless steel appliances.  It had a weird sort of wooden vaulted ceiling like it was added inside a non-vaulted one, and dark, soft carpeting in the bedrooms.  The smaller bedroom has its own door to the common part of the building, probably originally set up for being rented out by whoever lived in the apartment.

We talked a bit and I wasn't quite sure.  But with a six month lease, I won't be locked in past March, and I can look for something more modern, more fancy inside before Leena gets here.  And I was in something of a hurry anyway, because I start my new job on Monday and want to be moved in immediately.

After leaving the apartment he said the landlord could come to his office at 5:30pm to sign the paperwork.  And I agreed to go there at that time, about three hours later...

That gave me a lot of time to walk around.  I walked on 5th avenue up to about where their office was, but it wasn't only 33 blocks so I was there by 3:30pm, still way too early.  I kept walking, went down closer to the industrial part of Gowanus near the river, but it didn't look like there was access to it except through various industrial yards, not public, and there's no riverfront park down there.  The Statue of Liberty was visible from many intersections, between buildings.

I took a break at a Dunkin Donuts, bought a Boston creme donut and a vanilla been "coolata" (whatever that is, exactly) and sat near the window writing in my journal for a bit and half listening to some guys behind me talking about how they hate all the various people who were different from them, etc...

Sitting there still didn't eat up all my time so I walked up and down streets some more for a while.  I kept passing a funeral home with a fancy Cadillac convertible two-seater sports car out front with the title "funeral director" on the frame around the license plate.  Seems odd, I would expect a funeral director, especially using a car for work purposes, to have something a bit more solemn and staid...

I showed up at Rapid Realty's office around 5:15pm and waited in their reception area until Mark showed up and took me into one of the private offices.  We started going through the lease, making a few modifications to the standard one (e.g. standard says no pets, but he said pets were allowed in this one and I plan to get a cat) and initialing them.

A bit later someone named Carlos turned up, who I gathered was associated with the landlord and the property.  He told me some about it, and he initialed the lease document in the role of the landlord.  We talked about Sunset Park a little and how it's become more gentrified.  Carlos told a story of earlier in its changing demographics, shortly after he and Luis, the landlord, moved there he was on the subway and someone else was complaining about the new, weird people moving in and how the neighborhood was going downhill as a gay couple moved there.  At some point in the documentation, Mark asked Carlos about whether Carlos could sign something or if it had to be Luis, and Carlos said "it's our bank account".

Finally, once Luis turned up, the hints got clearer about who Carlos was...  Not Luis's lawyer like I thought a possibility, but his gay lover.  The two of them live in the ground floor apartment together, so they'll be my neighbors.  They were nice guys to make small talk with while doing the paperwork, both educated and intelligent, and probably good enough neighbors to bump into going in and out.  We chatted a bit about my experiences in India and they said they know some good Indian restaurants where I could get good food, though they understood when I pointed out that it's currently the taste of American food I'm looking for for a while.

Once we finished signing everything they handed over the keys to me and offered me a ride there if I needed it, but I said I was heading back to my hotel in Crown Heights, which is way out of their way.

I took the subway back, and this time didn't make a single wrong move on the subway.

Getting back to the hotel, a few women came out of the elevator in white dresses and hats that looked amazingly like wedding cakes.  On the way in there seemed to be something going on at the church across the street with lots of people in formals, so maybe they were going to that.

Now that I've seen my face in the mirror at the hotel, it's obvious that I got a bit of a sunburn while out walking around Brooklyn.  My nose especially is shiny red.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

New York Apartment Hunt

Whew, am I tired...  Although we got off to a late start, the apartment broker, Brian showed me a bunch of apartments around Brooklyn.

He arranged for us to meet two subway stations from the one nearest my hotel, which was a ten block walk.  Unfortunately, the map didn't show that it was ten blocks up hill...  I was pretty tired by the time I got to the station.  I bought a $20 subway pass, which is good for a few rides (anything over $8 gives a discount per ride).  But then I got on the wrong train, one that didn't stop where we arranged to meet, so I had to get off at another station and wait for one going back again.

I still got there before him.  It'd told him to look for me, a bit short, a bit chubby, wearing a green shirt and blue jeans.  He found me alright.

We started off with a freshly renovated, very modern one not far from the hotel and my office, in Crown Heights.  Inside it was quite nice, and the owner's broker was there to try and sell me on renting it.  I very nearly did, but politely asked if Brian could show me some more so I could see what was out there before deciding.  Brian kept saying how that one had the nicest kitchen of most of the apartments he's seen anywhere, and only $1,500 a month.  He said it was a good deal.

I was really thinking about it...  Although I didn't feel immediately comfortable with the neighborhood, he said it was still a safe place to walk at night.

Then we took the subway to another one near Sunset Park, on the ground floor.  I liked that neighborhood better, and the entrance hallway into the building had some nice, attractive tile work.  Inside was okay, one decent sized bedroom and one tiny one.  The view from the tiny one and the kitchen was awful, though, the wall of the building right next to it.  The view from the main bedroom was a bit better, since it was on a hill it overlooked other buildings' yards and some of the city in the distance.  It's very close to several subway stations with easy access to Manhattan.

Next we were a bit early for an "open house" at another building not far, where the owners were showing four different apartments.  Brian bought me lunch, a good New York style pizza at a small, non-chain restaurant.  I got a root beer, too, something I haven't had for quite a few years in India.  We talked about apartments and I talked about some of the differences between them and ones in India.

From there we walked up to that other building, but no one was there.  He made some calls and it turned out the open house was from 4 to 5, not 3 to 4 like he was originally told.  So we had some time to kill and continued walking up to Sunset Park to look out at the city.  Nice view from up there.

It was around there that I got out of breath from walking up hills and it dawned on me that the first, 4th floor apartment might not be suitable...  I didn't think Leena would like carrying things up four flights of steep, narrow stairs...  Or my parents when they come visit me, either, especially my father.

We stopped at a small dinner he knew a few blocks away and we got some hot drinks, him a coffee and me a hot chocolate and waited around for 4pm.

Shortly before 4pm some of the other brokers started showing up outside the building with the open house, and some with their clients.  I chatted with one of them who asked me how different India was and stuff.  Then the owner's agent showed up and opened up the flats.

We looked at a 1 bedroom and a 2 bedroom on the ground floor.  Their interiors were nice, all brand new, fresh wood flooring, new fixtures in the kitchens, great stuff.  But the one in front was too close to the door, too much noise of people being buzzed in and the door slamming.  No way, it would drive me nuts.  The one at the back had a very weird layout, with a bedroom-like room between the living room and the bedroom, if that makes sense.  But it wasn't possible to see the sky from any of the windows, because of all the other nearby buildings.

Then we looked at a two bedroom one on the second floor, and it was better.  It was right over the entrance, though, so had some of the same problems with the door buzzer and slamming.  Then we looked at one on the 4th floor, which had the same weird layout as the one at the back of the 1st floor, and from which the sky was visible.  But again, no elevator and it was a tiring walk up.

From there we hopped on the subway to the South Park Slope neighborhood near his office.  His office entrance was like a night club or Italian restaurant, with a narrow hallway and bricks lining it.

He got a key for another one not far, for which the only thing he knew was "it's carpeted," and we walked and walked and walked, all up hill till the road ended at a cemetery, and on the last block there was an old fellow doing some kind of yard work at the entrance.  He asked where the broker was, and Brian told him he worked with the regular one the owner used and was showing it, and showed him we had the key.

This was a two bedroom apartment in what seemed like a house.  As soon as we he opened the door we got a little dizzy.  The floor was tilted at a nearly impossible angle, and dipped a little with almost every step we took in the apartment.  Whenever we opened doors they were difficult to close because they didn't fit right in the frames.  It was dusty all over, the carpet (yes, it was carpeted) was dark, dingy and stained.  This was a definite rejection...

We thanked the old guy outside and walked back to his office, thinking of all the funny selling points someone could use for that apartment...  Well, cleaning up spills could be more convenient because the water would simply run down instead of spreading all over...  That sort of stuff...

By this time I'd decided on the second one, the ground floor one with the nice tiling in the entrance.  Of all the ones I saw, it had the fewest negatives.  Others were nicer, but no way could I see Leena or my parents happy walking up four flights of stairs, and others on the lower floors had no views at all, and wouldn't get much sunlight.  It's not perfect, but it's not bad, I'll just get some drapes or blinds for the windows on the side that have an ugly view.

Brian started my application process, and then had another woman there, Charlotte take over.  She walked me through all the paperwork. I put down a $1,550 deposit, which they said would make the landlord less likely to reject my application due to the oddities (no recent rental history, salary slips in rupees instead of dollars, etc...).  It's refundable if the landlord does reject the application and I'll get it all back.  She was pretty sure it would be acceptable, that showing three salary slips shows that I'm reliable and can keep a regular job, and the ING Vysya bank statements show us paying our bills on a regular basis, the things a landlord really wants to see, while the Kashrus employment letter shows that my new salary is in the range.

I'll follow up tomorrow and see how it goes.

This one is two train rides from the office, or a good hour walk, through safe neighborhoods.  I liked the look and feel of the neighborhood, it felt safer than some of the others.

So, we'll see...

After I left their office Brian was outside for a smoke break, so we chatted for a bit.  He said that the building I did pick one in has no laundry facilities, but there's laundromats nearby and dry cleaners.  He said he uses a dry cleaner all the time and it only comes out to around $10-15 a week, and he wears mostly suits to work, plus they come back pressed and folded like at a clothing store.

Now I'm quite tired.

On the way back from Brian's office I got on another wrong train once.  Only to get off and go across the street to the one going other direction and realize the first one was the right train.  After that it went okay, and the walk from the train station down Utica Avenue was pleasant with the sun having set and a cool breeze blowing.

Some of this neighborhood is interesting.  Lots of West Indian restaurants with things like "Beef Roti" on their menus.  At a few of them there were cooks with 50 gallon drums converted into barbecues out on the sidewalks cooking meat, with flavorful smoke wafting all over the place.  A few of those had stereos in front of their restaurants playing reggae music as well.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Incredibly Stupid - Very Lucky

Ok, so I did something very stupid today, and I got lucky.

Getting out of Customs Hall at the JFK airport terminal, I exited into the main waiting area where there were lots of people waiting to pick up passengers.  I obviously looked a bit confused, staring up at the overhead signs looking for taxis.

First one guy asked me if I needed a taxi and I said "yes" and he asked where I was going, but when I said Brooklyn he said he was going to Connecticut and they're not the same place.

Then after set my things down and put my passport into my handy-dandy document case in my backpack another guy asked "do you need a taxi?"  I said I did, to Brooklyn and he said "this way."

He led me to another guy, said something about Brooklyn to him, and the second guy said to come with him.  I followed and asked him "how much?" and he said $45, which okay, in the range of what I expected after checking online and finding there's no fixed formula and the taxis only have a fixed rate between the airports and Manhattan, not any other part of New York City.

He wasn't wearing a uniform or anything, and I didn't really think to ask for ID.  Once we got to his minivan he tossed my suitcases in the back, and said to go ahead and get in the front seat (not gruff, friendly, but it's hard to portray that in this...).  His car wasn't marked as a taxi in any obvious way.

I did, but there wasn't any obvious sign that it was a taxi, no radio, no meter, no stickers or anything...

I started to worry a little, but as he'd asked for the map Leena had me print out from Bing, I had it out and was keeping a careful eye on the roads we were taking and always he went in the expected direction.  And it was reassuring that he did not ask me to reimburse him $3 for the JFK parking lot.

We chit chatted a bit.  He seemed pretty friendly.  Part way through the drive we were talking about job security, after I mentioned that I didn't choose the job with the highest offer and joked "being competent and underpaid is the perfect job security".  He said he knew what I meant, he'd lost his previous job driving a company truck when they kept the lower paid drivers on, and he had no job now, except doing the unofficial taxi driving for a friend, but with that he never knew if he'd earn $2,000 a week, or as little as $100, and if anything happened to his car it was out of his pocket.

In the end, everything worked out, but if it hadn't, I would've only been able to blame myself for not thinking, not paying attention and not acting smart.


I carry a journal with me whenever I travel and write things down...  Here's what I have for the flight...

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010
Well, here I am at the airport in Mumbai waiting for my 12:45am nonstop flight to New York City.  At times I can't actually believe I'm doing this, it seems too unreal.  But I'm so happy to be heading back to the United States again.

We had lunch with Leena's family, said the good byes and then finished my packing back at our flat, while I gave her some last minute computer instructions.

Kalesh and the driver came about 4pm, loaded the suitcases and I was off on my way.  Traffic in Mumbai was heavy, but we planned for that, and no problems until we got to the road leading up to the airport.  My itinerary from the travel agent said Air India was in Terminal 2, but after some construction, there were signs for gates A, B, C & D, rather than 1 & 2, but it was marked clear enough that Air India was in A (although once inside I had to walk from A past the B entrance to get to Air India's check-in counters, so 2 or B would've been more accurate...)

I got to the airport too early and couldn't check in right away, so I had to stand around for about an hour with my bags.  Once I did check in there was no problem with my overweight bags, about 50.1 kg, over the maximum of two bags of not more than 23 kg each.  The agent at the counter didn't mention it, and neither did I (though I saw the readout on their scale).

The Immigration desk was another story...

The agent noticed that I'd been in India a while, that my last entry was stamped from February 2009 (my last business trip to the U.K. to learn about the BPM).  He asked me to confirm that I was traveling on the 10 year business visa in my passport, which I did, and again, when the last date I entered India was, and how long I was there, which was about a year and a half.  He asked what I was doing in India that long and I told him I was working for a software company, and he asked what company, so I told him it was Tieto, but that I'd quit the job last week and was going back to the U.S.

He asked for my FRRO registration form, but I told him I didn't have that.  He then reconfirmed all the previous details, and I confirmed them, and that I didn't have an FRRO registration because my visa is stamped with a funny stamp:

With that stamp, the FRRO refused to register me when I tried.  Everything online says that with a Business or Tourist visa valid for more than 6 months, then any foreigner has to register at the FRRO within 14 days of arrival, unless the visa is for "long term" when registration is not required if the visit is less than 180 days.  But the FRRO simply said that whatever is on the visa overrides what's on the website, and the stamp simply says that registration is not required, without conditions.

So, the agent grabbed all my papers and said "follow me."  I've had other agents in the past question this also, and make phone calls, but this is the first time one led me away from the main area and into the duty officer's cabin with the huge window where the thousands of people in the room could see me being led away...

The instant the duty officer looked at it he told the agent that it was perfectly legitimate and there was no problem.  They had further discussion in Hindi that I couldn't quite follow, and told me to sit down on the couch in the office.  The duty officer sent the agent to xerox all my papers while I waited there.  In the meantime another agent brought some other chap in with visa problems and I heard the duty officer grill him pretty bad (in that case it sounded like the guy stayed in India longer than his visa was valid and had no good explanation) before letting him go.

After the agent returned with copies of my papers they talked more, then both of them left for a few more minutes, with my papers, before returning and the agent said "follow me" and took me back to his counter, where he stamped my passport with the exit and reminded me that my visa expires in a few months, so if I return next year I need a new one.

Once he let me go, there was the main security check to get into the terminal.  Nothing unusual there, just the normal chaos, confusion and inefficiency.  I put my laptop and sweatshirt in a tray, and then several other people's trays got between that one and my backpack while I waited in line for the metal detector and the hand scan...  I think this was the first time I've ever been felt up to that degree by security...  And I have no idea why the hand scanner was beeping heavily near my left pants pocket, it was my right one that had a key and a ring, the left one was empty!

I tried to get a quick pizza at Pizza Hut in there departure terminal, but everyone else kept cutting in front of me in line, so I gave up and got a chocolate chip cookie instead from another restaurant.

I was on the phone with Leena when I noticed some activity going on at Gate 3, where I knew my flight was being handled.  It seemed early, but when I looked the signs all pointed to my flight, AI 141...  So I said good bye and dashed off...

It was yet another slow, inefficient security check, this one with us removing our shoes, getting our bags x-rayed again, and yet another hand pat down.  The family with children before me added to the chaos as they tried to hand the sleeping baby back and forth, and their trays with shoes and bags and jackets got all scattered amongst the trays from the rest of us.

Then one more security check, comparing our faces to our passports and another quick pat down and we were onto the plane.  And another family with children had things all confused, with one parent standing there, while security told the other to go back out to the terminal and get whatever they were missing and "leave the trolly here...".

On the plane I quickly found my seat, 18A, with two people already in the aisle and middle seat.  Both of them had to get up so I could squeeze my way in, next to the window (I always ask for window seats so I can look out).

After a while the fellow next to me asked me about my visit to India.  Turns out he's a software developer also, working from Connecticut, but was in India just for the long weekend for his brother's engagement in Punjab...

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Getting everyone on board and everyone's luggage stowed was a long process for the flight attendants.  And then getting everybody to sit down was harder.  Once the plane left the gate the flight attendants started the safety demo, but one elderly woman wouldn't sit down, so after finishing it in both English and Hindi they started all over again after a more senior flight attendant got the woman to sit down.

And then the plane started picking up speed, and then a senior flight attendant ran full speed up the aisle, and then we stopped.

The captain came on the intercom and apologized for the delay, but there was a technical problem with the airplane.  After some more waiting he brought the plane back to the gate where we started.

2am - Aw fuck!  We're still on the ground and they've just announced meal service.  That means there's no chance of leaving before that's all finished.

4am - We've just moved to another plane at the next gate.  Lots of police security to watch us walk through the terminal and keep everyone else out of our line.  Maybe this one will fly.

4:45am - The captain came on the intercom and said another twenty minutes or more, due to paperwork involved in changing planes and refiling everything with customs.

5:35am - We're finally about to leave.  Not bad for a 12:45am flight...

This plane isn't as comfortable as the previous one, the seat has a nasty, metal lump in it and the padding is worn out.  The entertainment console controller is all beat up and the arm of the chair that holds it is smashed, the vents near the floor look like they've been crushed and there's more stains all over.

I keep half expecting the captain to come on the intercom and say "she may not look like much, but she's got it where it counts," but hopefully not "I've made a lot of special modifications myself..."

2:20am New York Time (moved watch back 9.5 hours) - Oiy vey...  Not been a great flight so far.  Although the sun rose shortly after we took off, they structured the flight as "night" with the lights off and window shades closed.  Most slept, but kids screamed and yelled all "night."  Now it's "day" in the plane, and day outside.

And we ain't even halfway there!  Actually, we're in the neighborhood where most Tieto travelers are "almost there."

7:15am New York Time - Now we're at the point where we would have landed if everything had gone smoothly and we didn't have the five hour delay in Mumbai.

Some of the kids are sleeping, but at least one is in a super cranky mood.  Probably bored out of her skull, since we've been sitting in this plane (flying, or on the ground) for about 16 hours.  Can't they just give her a drink so she passes out and sleeps?

I've slept off and on for much of the flight.  But been woken up by screeching children.  Ashish Gupta, next to me, has slept a lot better than me, pulled the blanket over his head and seemed relatively oblivious.  I can't stay comfortable for more than a little while when I am awake, the seat's just miserable.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Yammer in the Enterprise

For the last year or so at Tieto (which I just left on August 31st, in preparation for my returning home to the United States) I used an online micro-blogging site, Yammer, with my company account.  Someone in Tieto in Europe had already set up a company "network" within Yammer and somehow I found out about it (I don't remember, maybe I read it on the company's internal blog or somewhere).

It was fun, I enjoyed it.  There were occasional technical discussions and a sometimes helping others with Java and sometimes getting help from others where I was stuck.  Most of the discussions had to do with bigger corporate things, like knowledge management, about which I don't know a whole lot, but interesting to read ideas from some very smart, very skilled people.

Most days I posted something when I first got in, "ah, Tuesday..." with a bit of a description about my commute to work, or something about life in the office in India.  Some was for me to vent, some was just things I figured someone who hadn't worked in India would find interesting about working in India.  While there was rarely any follow-up comments from others, I got a few emails in private that people enjoyed reading those, so that felt pretty good, especially since I enjoyed the writing.

Probably what I got most out of it was finding out that Tieto does more than just the project I worked on, and the few physically around it. I mean, I knew that, but had no idea what the rest of this company was other than "they" or "everything else". It turned Tieto from a gigantic company of mostly totally faceless "other" people into a bunch of people I never worked with but were real people.

Before using Yammer I knew that Tieto was quite big, but the only things I saw were my project and some of the other ones at the Pune office, which is only a tiny fraction of what Tieto does.  And the people I interacted with were only a tiny portion of Tieto's 17,000 "experts" (as we were all called).  And after I found there were a lot of good people there, and while my team was fantastic there were others I'm sure I'd have enjoyed working more closely with as well.

So, I'd recommend Yammer for anyone who works in a company or organization that's too big for everybody to know everybody else.

Exiting Tieto

Tuesday was my last day at work at Tieto.  The exit process was a real pain in the neck (this ties to my earlier post where I said my team is pretty insular, so I hadn't dealt heavily with other departments at Tieto for a while...).  There was a lot more paperwork involved than when I quit First Insight (my employer before that went out of business, and I got fired from the one before that...).  I had to get a half dozen signatures from various managers around the office in different departments.

Three of those managers were people I'd never met and didn't know on sight and didn't know where their desks were located.  Not one of them would be helpful enough to give me instructions on how to find them in the office.  One, the payroll guy, was nice enough to tell me that his desk was located "in the office" (uh, yeah, duh!), but cut off all communication when I asked for somewhat more precise directions.  Fortunately one of the women in HR, Vijaya, was assigned the task of following up on my exit paperwork and asked if I needed any help, so she gave me good instructions how to find them.

I had a couple of project related meetings in the afternoon, so I waited until after that to get the IT department's signature, in case they took my computer, which I needed.  Good thing, too, when I went to their office and said I needed to do the paperwork they cut off my network account before I ever made it back to my desk.  Fortunately I'd already copied the document I was working on and had to hand off to another teammate to the file server first, and I also emailed it to three people just as a backup.

Before that I also wrote a couple of farewell emails, one to my team specifically and one to all the people I've interacted with in the office, whether teammates or even just people I never talked to but always shared a smile with in the hallways...  That came out to over 50 people...

My department had a small party with cake to celebrate the department's birthdays and give me some flowers.  I made a lousy speech that I was unprepared for.

Then I went to the HR department for their signature, only to find their office empty.  Someone sitting nearby said they were all in a meeting.  That was about 5pm.  I went back around 5:10pm and they were still out.  At 5:15 they were still out and I started to worry that they might return, but being late in the day just pack up and leave without checking emails or things.

So, I sat patiently on a filing cabinet outside their office until their meeting finished at 6:35.  And even then the paperwork wasn't done.  There was some confusion about my missing a signature of a nonexistent manager.  The form had a space for a "configuration manager" but neither my solid-line manager nor my dotted-line manager knew what that was, let alone who that was.  By the time HR got back and explained that my solid-line manager needed to sign there with "not applicable" my solid-line manager had already left for the day for some follow-up medical tests (he was really sick earlier this year, with typhoid plus a serious kidney infection simultaneously that left him hospitalized for a few weeks) so it wasn't possible to get that.

The HR guy said he'd follow up with my solid-line manager the next day and get the forms, email me a PDF and courier the original to my address...  Of course, now Thursday is finished and I haven't received it yet...

After that I turned in my ID badge and key card, then the HR people escorted me out of the secure part of the office, into the reception area.  I guess they do that for all exiting employees.  They didn't make me feel like I was suspicious of anything and chatted cheerfully on the way out about my experiences in India and what my plans are for going home.

Then I waited there for a while for my teammates to finish work so we could all go to La Pizzeria for a team dinner and a farewell for me.  My original plan was to go home, shower and things, then get picked up at my apartment, since they have to drive right near it anyway.  But with HR's extended meeting I just waited for another fifteen minutes in the reception area instead, without taking a rickshaw home.

Dinner with my team was fun.  I guess since I joined Tieto after I was already getting homesick here in India I'd never really talked to my teammates before about the good memories I had of earlier in my stay in India, so a lot of that came out.  Someone even commented that they never imagined I'd eaten at as many restaurants as I talked about, since by the time I joined Tieto I was rarely ever eating out anymore.

Tuesday turned out to be a strange day to finish a work week.  It's left me quite confused as to what day is what since then...