Places I slept, 2014

Richmond, San Francisco, CA

Santa Monica, CA

Malibu, CA

Mission, San Francisco, CA

Brooklyn, NY

Manhattan, NY

Somewhere between Albany, NY and Chicago, IL

Somewhere between Lincoln, NE and Denver, CO

Elko, NV

Ft. Collins, CO

Santa Cruz, CA

Nice, CA

Kowloon, Hong Kong

Dongguan, China

Shanghai, China

Mong Kok, Hong Kong

Sheung Wan, Hong Kong

Wan Chai, Hong Kong

Guerneville, CA

San Diego, CA

Las Vegas, NV

Yosemite, CA

Makati, Manila, Philippines

Alabang, Manila, Philippines

Bohol, Philippines

Ebisu, Tokyo, Japan

Itabashi, Tokyo, Japan

Timber Cove, CA

Walden, CO

In many ways 2014 was the best year ever. After getting engaged in Japan in 2013 we got married in Colorado in April, surrounded by friends from all over the world. We saw Japan again, and the Philippines. We took a train across the US. We moved in SF, to an apartment with better light near the train. I got a wonderful new job and did an amazing amount of travel. I didn’t quite reach as many different places slept as 2013, which is fine, I hope it remains a record for some time. More than 2012, 2011, 2010, or 2009, when I first began to keep track.

In many ways 2014 was the worst year ever. After hurting myself worse than ever before I spent two weeks in hospitals in New York, and required a train ride across the country to get home. I missed a month of work. Doctor’s visits, physical therapy, and a slow return to normal activity followed. I didn’t get to play any ultimate at all. Tara had knee surgery in July. We spent much of the year indoors, unable to adventure. We had to cancel our honeymoon.

And yet, looking back at how many adventures we still managed, I can only laugh. We went to four weddings, not counting our own. We saw new places (Dongguan for me, Hong Kong for Tara, and Yosemite, Bohol, and the cross country train for both of us) and so many old friends. If 2014 was the worst, it was also a reminder how lucky we are.

Here’s to the next.

Also, Mr. Squish’s list for 2014, for those requesting:

Richmond, San Francisco, CA
Mission, San Francisco, CA
Ft. Collins, CO
Petaluma, CA
Walden, CO

He is still a traveling cat, albeit one currently curled on my feet, asleep.

Napping creatures

In the long rays of afternoon light on the last day of the year I read through words from the months past and stare out the window. On the sofa Mr. Squish sleeps with his face tucked against the blue cushions that were a gift to ourselves this past April, when we were in sore need of a space to lie down. Since then it has hosted friends from New York, from Denver, from San Diego, Detroit, and Portland. In 2015 hopefully many more will visit and find it welcoming. Today it is my home, at least until nap time.

In 2014 we mastered a new skill: napping. Whether from injury, exhaustion, jetlag, or illness, we were often forced to sleep when able rather than when dark, to rest when the day became quiet, even at 3 pm. And so we did, all three of us, with great frequency. Mr. Squish is pleased with this turn, as he misses my ritual of Thursdays at home from the two years previous, when I would avoid the commute to Petaluma and instead pace our bedroom on long phone calls as he slept on the bed in the slim beams of sun those east-facing windows provided. In those afternoons he would nap on the bay window seats above the floorboard heater as I sat nearby at the desk. In 2014 he has the luxury of our new sofa and an expanse of north and west facing windows perfect for a sun-loving cat. He is not alone in this love, and often times has to share the couch. It’s an arangement that suits everyone.

In these last short days of winter we have managed to wring from 2014 more of the smiles we had hoped for at the year’s start. A few days on the North California coast gave us sun and the sounds of the ocean. A few days in the mountains of Colorado gave us the peace of being snowed in beneath thousands of stars. And now, at the end of the year, we have some time at home to curl up and reflect, to make art and to sing. Buried in the joy of these early afternoons and short evenings is a lesson about hopes and expectations and the challenges that will fill the rest of our lives.

The year started with a new job, with a new house, and plans for a wedding. It ended with five weddings, four bachelor/bachelorette parties, a huge number of new destinations, new trips, and new experiences. Also the worst injury of each of our lives, the longest break from ultimate, and the most hours of work we’ve ever clocked. 2014 was grueling, swallowing us with the feeling that we could do nothing but grind, do nothing but heal, and do nothing but celebrate.

In between these moments it has been a year of naps. A skill once learned on Tokyo trains and long haul flights has been perfected in hospital chairs, airport lounges, and on this exact sofa.

So, after both lunch and work emails are finished, Mr. Squish and I retire to the bed. The house is finally warm, and the sun streams in the windows. Later we will rise, welcome Tara home, and prepare to celebrate with friends. For now we curl up tight together with a furry blanket and surrender again to sleep.

The future in 2G

A lot of my job is done abroad. This year I spent almost two and a half months abroad, 73 days all told. Being out of the States so often and for so long, cumulatively, gives me many opprotunities to learn and to remember things I’ve forgotten since moving back to the US in 2008. I really appreciate these chances, even if some of them are lonely, or represent significant challenges at work. Enough are interesting and for personal adventure to keep me happy, and keep me traveling.

2014 brought one specific change to my travel methods, and because of that an experience I wanted to share. I no longer use local SIMs, save in extraordinary situations. In October of 2013, T-Mobile, an American mobile phone company, launched free international data roaming. Even now, more than a year later, typing those words feels amazing. Free international data. To give context, previous international data deals available in the US ran something in the realm of $30 USD for 50 megabytes of international roaming data. Thirty dollars for fifty megabytes. It’s easy to see why I switched to T-Mobile.

The catch, because of course there is one, is that this free and unlimited data comes down from the tower at 2G speeds.

So I spent one fifth of 2014 on 2G, and the remaining four fifths on LTE. Or with no service in the wilder parts of the US, specifically northern California, north western Colorado, and a lot of the cross-country train ride. That is another trade-off that comes with chosing T-Mobile. It’s an easy choice for me, being primarily a city person.

Having free international data and spending so much time on the road, be it in the trains of Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Tokyo, or the traffic of Manila and Shenzhen, not to mention factories, restaurants, and hotels, means a lot of phone time. A lot of email. A lot of Twitter. A lot of web. And that leads to the point. In 2014, the web is hard on 2G. Sites load slowly, first displaying banner ads and only then, tens of seconds later, the all-text content of the article. Mastheads take dozens of seconds to load, complex drop down menus and high-resolution logos. Analytics packages. And ads. Some activities and apps simply don’t scale well to 2G. Instagram, for example, is an exercise in patience, but a worthwhile one. And Google Maps, well…

In 2014 it feels like the network is finally everywhere, or almost. And it feels like the future. Being able to turn on my phone in any country on landing and check on my cat, at home in San Francisco, will probably still feel surprisingly wonderful for another couple of years. And 2G isn’t bad for most things. Despite how it probably sounds, this post is not meant as a complaint. It’s meant as a note, a reminder, and a future consideration. For example, loading time for maps matter. More than anything, maps are used when in unfamiliar locations, and often those are situations without great network access. Be it hotel wifi, 2G cell network, or just the slow connections of many smaller cities, maps are most necessary on the fringes, out of our comfort zone, and often in something of a hurry. Yes, most of the places I’ve been have faster networks. Hong Kong has excellent service, faster than the US in many cases. But not every place does. Not every city has LTE, nor every carrier, and that’s the point.

I view these 73 days on 2G as a test of how we interact with networks, and as a challenge for service design. Twitter as it used to be, all text 140 characters or less, was the perfect low-bandwidth mobile-first service. Modern Twitter, with video, photos, expanded links, and soundcloud embedded, is increasingly something built for fast networks, for always-on connections. Not necessarily a bad set of decisions, but a definite shift from a service originally built on SMS, built for the mobile networks we used to have and that many still do.

Of course not all things are built for slow mobile networks, and that’s fine. Heck, Tumblr is one of them, image heavy and full of .gifs. Oh god, .gifs on 2G. If ever a format’s resurgence has come without consideration of bandwith, .gif is it.

Overall I think a few weeks on 2G is something product teams should experience, and consider, not just today or this year, but well into the future. There will be people on slower networks and with worse connections for much longer than San Francisco, which had quite poor cell networks just a handfull of years ago. If a service is designed to “change the world” it needs to be usable out in that world.

Jet lag

Four am and my body is awake. Next door a small gathering is winding down, Saturday night enthusiasm giving slowly way to Sunday morning acceptance of the week to come. Laughter and chatter slip through the cracked window above my bed. Combined with the sense of Asian afternoon in my brain and there is no return to sleep. The cat is snuggled tight against my leg, so happy to have his people home again after almost a month abroad.

A month abroad. No wonder my soul has no roots. Eight border crossings in the first ten days. Four countries and seven cities, several of them multiple times. No surprise then as it starts to rain that my body does not know where we are. In the past month it has heard and felt rain in Hong Kong, in Bohol, in Dongguan, and in Tokyo. Now, hearing the patter on the same neighbor’s roof, I hear all of those cities, and feel at home in none.

Filling out customs forms a few weeks back, towards the end of the busiest portion of travel, I had to stop at the home address line and think carefully. Our address in San Francisco, this apartment I am in now, filled with the sound of neighbors and rain, with furry cat and wood floors, no longer came immediately to mind.

Small wonder that, another two weeks on, my soul has not yet found its way back across the Pacific to my body.

In the evenings here, after the sun has set so early, I sit and read for hours. Only after dinner, after cleaning up, feeding the cat and locking doors, do I suddenly wonder what the person who used to live here would have done on this Tuesday. The person who used to live here being myself, in July. Before travel, I almost write, but by July I’d spent three weeks abroad, post injury. Who would he call, this past self, for dinner or adventure? Where would he go after work, in the early hours of the evening? Wondering these things I go to sleep at nine thirty, at ten, to wake at four.

“We haven’t seen you in forever,” say friends, when I remember to call those I used to share meals with, climb with, throw with, or watch baseball with. Their claims resonate and I struggle to remember our last conversations, apologize for my confusion, and relax into silence, letting others talk.

Yet in the past month I have not been alone. I have seen so many friends in so many places. I have eaten, drank, and played with friends first met in Tokyo in 2002, in Shanghai or Manila in 2004, and all over Asia in the years since. The world is rich for me, in all directions, but my vision is blurry. Jetlagged to the core I remember so many things, but can share little, save in these strange hours without sleep.

Building forever

Landing in Tokyo at night, the city does not seem to end. From the air lights stretch away in all directions save where the sea still intrudes. In a bus from the airport this is reinforced, no suburban gap between airport and the city it serves. Neighborhoods change, the area around Haneda giving way to the denser residential sprawl of Tokyo proper, and then micro shifts as the gaps between train stations become the only visible breaks. Like interstate exits in the US, train stations represent the loci of Tokyo, clusters of shops, neon, and light that then spreads out, a subtle Doppler effect of dissipating commercial space, until the pace accelerates before the next station, another bunch of stores and people, taxis and signs. In this pattern we move on through the city in the night.

As many have written, Tokyo feels like the future. On this evening taxi ride, just arrived from Manila and another view of a possible future, I wonder why Tokyo, more than any other city, gets this designation.

The common reasons are obvious and true. It is clean, far more than any other city of size. Efficient too, in a way Germans and Swiss can enjoy. The city is polite in service and accommodating to foreigners, in a fashion that leaves visitors impressed and eager to return.

Our bus and then taxi each pass through separate construction areas, both calmly productive at one am on the morning of a national holiday. Lights are on, workers direct traffic, and the dirt of the digging is neatly contained by cones. Tokyo is, like New York, in constant repair. And yet there are no potholes, the average street seems five years old, and the sidewalk is level, blind strips and all. How can this city be so large and so well-maintained?

The smell, stepping out of the taxi, is what I remember most. Tokyo in the rain. So different than the smell of rain in Hong Kong, a few weeks back, or Bohol last week. So different than Shanghai, Dongguan, or San Francisco’s smells, the cities I now know well. The smell is clean, to my nose, lacking pollution and not quite of the ocean in the way Bohol was.

Now, a few days later, I think that the magic of Tokyo is not in just in the trains, or the organization, or the maintenance, but in all three. The magic is found in the attention to detail on all ends of the organism that is Tokyo. From construction to use to repair and replacement, the extra measure of care can seem robotic, idyllic. Especially after the vagaries of public transit in the Bay Area, after the impenetrable morass of Manila traffic, Tokyo’s mechanical functionality can seem impossible, the cleanliness obviously forced, drawing the inevitable comparisons to Disney or Singapore.

Instead I think, it represents what could be, not what will be. It represents what people might build, if so determined as a large group. Manila and San Francisco, St. Louis and Dongguan do likewise. All that differs are the people, and the complex intermingling of abilities, desire, and willingness to work together.

In this view the future of Tokyo is both approachable and impossible, marvelous and out of reach. It’s a city to love, I think. More than anything it’s a wonderful place. Standing on the balcony of our rented apartment, looking out at the city and falling rain, it is a place I am so glad to see.