Pat Gunn (dachte) wrote,
Pat Gunn


In which I visit NYC:

I should first note that I'm not back yet; my MegaBus is around 8pm tonight, but at this point I'm not expecting a lot of excitement left, just the large amounts of walking and sitting that I am wont to do when visiting other cities.

I left my house a bit before 7am, with haste that was ill-considered; the morning trains are fast and frequent, so I was downtown a bit over an hour before my MegaBus. My paranoia on making it to airports on time has saved me many times in other cities, but isn't needed for MegaBus in PHL.

Arrived yesterday morning around 10am, first swung by Whole Foods for lunch at their buffet, then went to [|Ports], a tiny, comfortable teahouse with decent croissants. I'm impressed at the amount of clothing variance here; NYC is nonconformist to a much greater extent than PGH or PHL, with clothing ranging from kinky (full-body lycra) to parisian levels of stylish to awful. There are plenty of beautiful people, but surprisingly few really-ugly people. Some of this may be my particular aesthetic sense; there are certain combinations of ethnicity and poor-self-maintenance that strike me as almost offensively ugly, but those combinations are not much represented here.

Moseyed down towards Soho for my job interview at TED, stopping at 'Snice where I made an awful choice of what kind of granola-with-milk to get (I like apples in many forms, but sliced-with-bananans-and-joghurt is not one of them; others seem to like this taste-combo, so maybe it's a personal quirk) but enjoyed the atmosphere, and then finally over to the building where TED is (among many other businesses).

On TED, I was beginning to think about it as a Plan B over the last few days; I've been worried that the private sector was not going to be intellectual enough or would be too stuffy and focused, but my first few minutes in TED's offices pushed me right back towards being equally interested in both; it felt like the kinds of informal/goofy offices Google has, but more intellectual and done right. There are books everywhere; books that are analyses of the grand shapes of civilisation from every angle (plus a few fluff books about how great Obama or Steve Jobs are; if you really think they are/were earth-shatteringly important people, I'm not going to be able to take you that seriously on some topics). Some of these books I have, some I want, and some I once wanted but forgot about. There were some other books that I probably should want; fortunately, I arrived early and got a chance to look through some of the bookshelves before the person I was speaking with was available. There was also a giant couch area as colourful as a pile of jellybeans, and everyone there seemed to be talking to each other about interesting things (could not hear a lot of it, but people looked healthy, happy, and bril). Big picture people with a comfortable office and big picture books. In sum, a novel workplace (and not the bad kind of big-picture; they do stuff too).

The interview went reasonably, I think. I know I'm not really (exactly) a web developer, but as I've said, I tried to convince them that they need a systems geek with a big smattering of other skills and an interest in knowledge-based transhumanism (which is how I frame TED, like the RSA). Talked shop a bit about various technologies, past projects, etc too. Either I didn't nail it or this was a "get to know you, we have more stages of interview later" thing; let them know about where I am with MIT.

I think I could be happy and fit in at TED. I'm not absolutely set on it, and it might be a tough choice between them at MIT (if both end up wanting me), but it'd be viable and worthwhile, I think. Plus they don't exactly have a systems geek, and as I've opined before, any tech company should have at least one great one. Interview ended, I wandered down to NYC's Occupy, which took me a bit because I walked and because Google Maps is not fantastic at figuring out where I am around here (maybe the tall buildings mss with GPS signals).

OccupyNYC is in an area a bit smaller than OccupyPHL, I think, and not in an area that's obviously important. It's just this park vaguely in the financial district, rather than in front of City Hall (PHL). It appeals to the side of me that loves entropy; instead of the neat rows of tents in PHL, it's this giant maze of smaller tents, tarps over some of them, clothing hanging over lines, twisty little passages, and shoes and buckets and useful things on the ground around which one must constantly dodge. I have dreams about this kind of place often, except with brick and mortar mixed in; uneven floors, passages upwards and downwards, etc. Anyhow, OccupyNYC's people seem better informed about things; the level of their discourse is much higher than that in PHL. The mentally ill are not so present, and wingnuts are in shorter supply too; some people carried signs proposing specific regulation that needs to be (re)introduced or other types of legal change, and I did not detect so much hostility towards the police. They did not have, as far as I could tell, a speaker system or dedicated spaces for GAs (the place they're camping doesn't lend itself to that), so they used the people's mic (speaker says 1-6 words, everyone repeats, repeat) a lot more, and met wherever there seemed to be room at the time. In PHL, the attitude seemed to oscillate between grim and joyous, while in NYC things seemed more generally content. Everyone was just talking a lot more too.

There were a pair people there who seemed to be there mainly to troll anyone who seemed too content; things started out as a reasonable-but-somewhat-confrontational discussion about philosophy, and eventually came into a (surprisingly homed) assault on what I'm doing with my life. I stayed reasonably friendly, and the recognition of what they were trying to do made it just feel weird rather than (too) threatening; eventually I wandered off; later I saw them starting similar conversations with others, trying to figure out what made them tick and then starting existential attacks to break them down. I am not sure if this was done to troll or done in the service of a certain religious tactic I've sometimes seen: induce existential despair and then suggest christianity as the way out. They wern't able to make enough headway with me to deliver that punchline, if that was where they were going; if they were trolling, I might imagine they're deeply cynical people and find the idea of people with a cause trying to do good things as an offensive itch over a matter they're trying to keep decided in their life. Occasionally I've gotten enough traction over conversations with trolls to climb into their head, and things like that are often in there.

Fortunately, I also had some reasonable conversations (and email addresses, to continue those conversations if I choose) with some other people; one of them was with a canadian (we talked about Harper's government, forms of democracy in Canada and elsewhere, David Cameron, and about efforts to express consequences of economic decisions in ways that incorporate their longer-term effects (e.g. coal power, with the health costs of communities involved); I imagine there are effects that will never be measurable in economic terms, but the more things we can bring into that analysis, the more weight we'll have in discussing things with people who think primarily in economic terms.

It was beginning to get late, and I was getting cold, so I called Gustavo, got directions to his place, and walked up to a station where I caught the 1 up to Columbia's dorms. I was surprised how long it took, but it's easy to forget how big NYC is. To repurpose a quip,

NYC is big. You just won't believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it's a long way down the road to the chemist's, but that's just peanuts to NYC.

We grabbed dinner, chatted, and I then got some decent sleep.

This morning, I woke up after (I think) G and the unseen other roomate had left; packed up my stuff and took a train down to one of my favourite places in NYC, Yaffa Cafe. I had pancakes, steamed spinach, and a tea in their back courtyard, and then wandered here, to Roast Town Cafe, a neighbourhood teahouse that's ... not a bad place to spend an hour or two (not that full, decent plugs, and they don't seem bothered that I haven't left yet), but nothing special. Certainly less embarassing to be inside than the Starbucks I briefly was in yesterday while waiting for the interview time.

Next on the agenda is probably a trainride up for a walk in central park, maybe a museum, a nap, and/or a museum before I have to head back to 9th and 31st for the MegaBus back to PHL.

I took a few photos; likely will put them up once I'm home and have had time to sort through them all.

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