Monthly Archive: September 2014

Six Months of Airbnb – Traveling in My Own City

Six months ago, I gave up my lease on a Manhattan apartment and embarked on an Airbnb adventure, living in a new place approximately every month.

Before then, I’d lived in a large studio in the east 20s for several years, filling my apartment with stuff and slowly realizing I needed to do something different. I didn’t know what “different” should mean. I’d have a tough day, come home, and buy dresses online to make myself feel better. It was a good feeling that lasted for about 30 seconds after I hit the “Buy” button. Dresses would arrive in boxes, and I’d let them sit in the entryway for weeks.

My parents would bring stuff too — more clothes, knick-knacks, kitchen implements, a form of love that fit my life at the time. I bought feng shui items to try to make my cluttered home feel more open. It worked for a while. But I came home one night last December, walked into my apartment bursting with stuff, and burst into tears.

I felt suffocated. I didn’t know why I was doing this. Why did I need to accumulate more, what was the point, if it held me down and prevented me from trying all the things I wanted to try?

I started to think about getting rid of all my stuff.

Getting Ready for the Leap

I watched videos online of people who’d done it. They had one backpack, and they were roaming the world, doing what they felt like.

That level of minimalism was not for me. I wanted more than one backpack. But I decided to start paring down and see how far I could get.

I gave notice on my apartment at the end of February and called the Salvation Army to set a pickup date. I browsed Airbnb to find promising listings for my new adventure. I wanted roommates, because I’d lived alone for too long. I wanted to shake up my way of life entirely.

One month later, I had three bags of stuff.

Empty Apartment

I walked through my apartment with the super, then closed the door behind me and took a taxi across town to my first Airbnb apartment. There was no moving van and no giant moving fee and no hassle. It was awesome.

Airbnb 1 – April

I chose a loft in Chelsea for the first month, April, living with a fashion photographer. It was directly across from Google and half a block from Chelsea Market. It was also convenient to the subway, which was great because I was still working. I was still weighing whether I needed a change of everything, including my job, or just a change of scenery. I gave myself one month to decide.

The loft was gorgeous, a self-contained space with a living-room area, desk, small mini-kitchen, and loft bed. The walls were covered with artwork, a friendly cat and dog lived in the apartment, and my roommate was the most amazing person I could have hoped for. We talked about life and he cooked delicious breakfasts and we watched Game of Thrones every week. I read programming books in my spare time. I looked out the window and felt life speeding up. At the end of the month, I gave notice at my job.

Airbnb 2 – May

On May 1 I moved to Brooklyn, to a two-bedroom apartment in Boerum Hill. My roommate was in technology, and with similar interests we had great discussions about technology and politics. It took a few days to adjust to the slower pace of Brooklyn — I’d wanted to try it, but at first it felt suburban, and I wasn’t sure about the low-key vibe. By the end of the month, I felt at home. I became friends not only with my roommate, but with his dog, and enjoyed the fully equipped kitchen and projection screen. Also, for the first time, I felt like part of a new community. I was moving toward something instead of away from something.

At the end of the stay, I decided I still had too much stuff. Moving was a struggle, and my suitcase was too heavy. So I left the suitcase behind for my June travels, and just took a backpack and a shoulder bags with a small purse inside of it.

Airbnb 3 – June

After my last day of work, I went to AltConf in San Francisco, so I didn’t rent a place in New York for June. Instead, I stayed in a Pacific Heights Airbnb for a week, in one of the most ideal rooms I could imagine. The Airbnb listing didn’t have professional photos, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. But the place was a tiny brick house on a hilly street, the apartment was clean and quiet and full of light, and the room in the back had a bed, a futon and a tiny fireplace and desk. I slept so peacefully there that, once again, I felt San Francisco embraced me as a visitor.

Airbnb 4 – June

In between trips to visit my parents and to see friends in upstate New York, I spent a few days in Manhattan in late June. I chose the West Village, since I’d always wanted to live there. It was a great experience but really no better than other neighborhoods, which allowed me to put to rest my inflated expectations. The best part was meeting my host and the other travelers staying with her. This is something I’ve found to be true with Airbnb — there’s almost always another roommate in the picture at some point. I’ve been fortunate to have great experiences, but it is something to be aware of, if you’re thinking of booking a private room instead of an entire apartment.

Airbnb 5 – July

After traveling in Canada (at an official B&B, not an Air), I returned to New York in late July for Hacker School. I chose an Airbnb room on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights, directly across from a Le Pain Quotidien. I needed more than just a backpack for the next three months, so I bought a tiny carry-on suitcase that was easy to carry up and down stairs. Along with my backpack and shoulder bag, this was all I had and all I needed.

I loved living in Brooklyn Heights. The room was quiet, huge, and beautifully furnished. I could look out my window and see people dining on roof decks and then go downstairs to see people dining on the street. I didn’t see my roommate much, but enjoyed the conversations we had and then enjoyed the peacefulness of the space and the neighborhood.

Airbnb 6 – August/September

My final stay in New York was in Dumbo, where I’m typing this now. I live under a bridge, and the noise of trains is my companion. I love it, for the time and the place and the atmosphere and the industrial/new/old feeling. The apartment is a mid-century furnished loft, my roommate is amazing, and the little dog is incredibly friendly and playful. The water is filtered, there’s a trampoline to jump on for exercise, and I’ve gotten a lot done while living here.

Dumbo loft

I’m also ready to move on to what’s next. My “rent” next month will be in Florence and Tuscany, where I’m traveling for a post-Hacker School change of scenery. My goal is to maintain my pace of learning while seeing new places and having new experiences and considering what’s next.

I’ll be back in mid-November to decide for sure. My period of discovery will need to shift to a period of implementation or form a strange hybrid of the two, which could be even better.

But I still won’t have any stuff. And I’m happy about that. The important things in life are love, experiences and giving back — leaving something good behind. Stuff has no place in that equation, for me. It gets in the way. It’s a placeholder. I’ve learned to admit it, and clearing my life of stuff has done me a great good. It’s allowed me to see what’s important to me, focus on what’s important, and get things done.

Traveling in my own city, with Airbnb, has been an amazing experience.

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Hacker School Gratitude Journal

I’m grateful for everything about Hacker School and this summer.

I’m grateful for the people who made this experience possible. I’m grateful for the programmers who shared their knowledge and welcomed me to share mine. I’m grateful for the friends I made, and the hours I spent in deep concentration, and for the fact that these two things were not mutually exclusive.

I’m grateful for the chance to attend this magical place.

I’m grateful for the community that extends beyond Hacker School and makes the motto, “Never graduate,” a real thing, so I can keep growing and learning and sharing and participating in different ways over time.

I’m grateful for idealism winning out over realism, and making reality more ideal. I’m grateful that my Xcode plugin worked. I’m grateful that I didn’t overthink the idea before starting to try to figure it out. I’m grateful for the help I got from people in and around Hacker School. I’m grateful for brainstorming sessions, the comfy couch to sit on, the amount I’ve learned, and the feeling of being surrounded by lots of motivated, curious people.

I’m grateful for the lovely apartments I had to stay in, the noise of trains over the Manhattan Bridge reminding me that things are always moving and shifting, reminding me to keep pace and keep pushing and change things.

I’m grateful for my roommates and the wonderful experiences I’ve had with them, and I’m grateful that I took the chance to push out of my comfort zone and into the world of adjusting to others. I’m grateful for the occasional privacy that balances out my experiment in living more cooperatively and nomadically.

I’m grateful for the awesome people in my life, and for serendipity.

I’m grateful for my health. I’m grateful for the great food I eat every day and the opportunity to try anything. I’m grateful for New York City and its never-ending options, and I’m grateful for my ability to focus.

I’m grateful for persistence and creativity, which are only good together and have allowed me to do all of this — everything I’ve done for the past few years, leading me to this point of creating and exploring and learning and enjoying the world.

I’m grateful for the tough weeks and the easy weeks and the mistakes and the things done right, and the amazing summer that all these things combined to create. I can feel that I will look back on this summer with utter thankfulness, probably when I’m tired and stressed-out and working hard and struggling to sleep enough. So I thought I’d start now and say

Thank You.

Hacker School, Week 9 Postscript

I can’t believe week 9 of Hacker School just ended. Because of varying start dates for different Hacker School batches, batch lengths can vary. My batch is 11 weeks long, not 12, so week 9 is pretty far toward the end.

I’m learning a lot. I feel like I’m on a march to get as much done as possible in the time allotted, though I know this is an artificial deadline. I’ll keep learning the next day after Hacker School ends, and the next, and the next.

Granted, I’ll be learning in a hammock on a farm in Italy, which will be a nice change of scenery and pace. Instead of going out for dinner when I’m hungry, I’ll pick tomatoes and bake some organic bread.

But I still feel pressure about the upcoming end of the batch.

One of the great things about Hacker School is its open-ended nature. “Never graduate” is their motto, and they mean it. I’ll still be able to visit the Hacker School space on Thursdays, nights and weekends after my batch ends, and I’ll be able to attend Monday night talks, which means I’ll continue meeting great people whenever I’m in New York.

But I won’t be in Hacker School. I’ve loved this experience for the pure learning-friendliness of it, and I’ll miss the feeling of shared focus. I don’t feel quite ready to leave, but at the same time it will be nice to find out what “post-Hacker School” means for me.

I’m putting together some lessons learned that I’ll post when I’m done and on my way.

The Day After the Carnival

I’m relaxed after a day at the dentist and a dose of Benadryl. This isn’t usually what I think of as relaxing.

Maybe because I’m coming to the end of Hacker School in a few weeks, maybe because I have a lot of work ahead of me and I’m excited about it, maybe because I’ve been thinking and coding and reading and writing nonstop since late July, but my brain is taking a breather.

I really want to pick up that JavaScript book. The one next to me on the table. But I listen to music my roommate is playing and put my head on my knees and smile and close my eyes.

I ate a bowl of pasta with olive oil, butter, garlic, tomatoes and Parmesan cheese. Perfect comfort food. My tooth doesn’t hurt. Giant relief. I can’t wait to go to bed, for once.

I look back at last spring and it seems like a different life. The space between now and then is well-trodden, like a field the day after a carnival. Walked on, laughed on, played on. Now I just want to walk forward. Or run.

That’s how I feel — like I’m running to do as much as possible, see all the sights and do all the things and be productive and valuable and make this the right decision. It’s a whirl and I love it. I’m never sure what to think. Just: Do as much as possible. Do as many things that scare me as possible. Make the most of this time. Enjoy life along the way.

How to Use NYC’s First Bitcoin ATM

NYC has a Bitcoin ATM. I found out a couple of weeks ago. I was thrilled, because I’d been hesitant to link my main real-world bank account with an online Bitcoin exchange. I’m sure the online exchanges and wallets take many security precautions, but the technology is still new and I don’t trust fully yet.

I was also too lazy to set up an alternate bank account solely to use it with a Bitcoin exchange.

So I decided to visit the Bitcoin ATM. As a tech geek with interests in security and new innovations, I’m curious about how Bitcoin works and wanted to try the process end-to-end.

Bitcoin ATM Step-by-Step

The Lamassu ATM is run by PYC Bitcoin and is installed at Flat 128, a boutique in the West Village. I was worried that the process of depositing might be cumbersome or might not work, but it was smooth and easy.

Here are the steps I followed:

1. I downloaded the free Bread Wallet app on iPhone. It was recommended to me by the ATM operator as a good, easy-to-use app, and after some App Store research, I agreed. Configuring the app took only a couple of minutes.

2. I went to the ATM at Flat 128 with cash.

3. I opened the Bread Wallet app on my iPhone, entered my PIN, and selected the “Receive Money” screen. I tried to scan my app’s QR code into the ATM but held it in front of the wrong place on the machine. Luckily, the sales clerk knew how the machine worked and showed me where to scan the code. (Scan it on the glass panel on the lower right of the ATM).

4. I deposited cash, and a tally on the screen showed how many Bitcoins I had purchased. I stopped at 1 Bitcoin, confirmed the transaction, and watched as my phone’s Bread Wallet app balance went to about $500. (Note: There is also about a 5% fee.)

In sum, the ATM transaction was easy and pleasant. (I’m not sure how easy withdrawing cash would be, since I didn’t try that.)

But I now had a lot of money on my smartphone — more than I was willing to leave there for the long haul.

Where to Put the Bitcoin?

I researched online and offline Bitcoin storage and decided to split my Bitcoins between Coinbase (a relatively established online Bitcoin wallet with an offline vault option) and a paper (printed, offline) wallet.

Establishing the Coinbase account was easy, and it took about an hour to verify and transfer my Bitcoin from the Bread Wallet app. Beyond this simple transfer, setting up two-factor authentication (better security) in Coinbase was a little more complex. I had to provide my phone number, download the “Authy” app, and type in a couple of codes and a backup email address.

To me, the process itself is interesting. I’m interested in learning more about how Bitcoin works and trying a few more different mechanisms, including using offline or paper storage, using a Coinbase Vault, making an online purchase from Overstock.com, and withdrawing cash from the ATM.

I’ll blog about it here.

Hacker School: Week 7

I’m in the second half of Hacker School, feeling short of time and not sure what to do about it. My only option is to keep showing up every day and getting things done. I sit at a long table in a huge room or abscond to my personal favorite work space, a living-room-like corner with a high ceiling, a metric ton of computer books, and a metal staircase leading up to a door that doesn’t open.

On a beanbag or couch in this corner, surrounded by books and people hacking on projects and a robot mural painted on the wall, I feel equally at home and unsettled.

After focusing on C for two weeks and then an Xcode plugin for a month, I’m switching my “learning” focus to JavaScript and node.js. I’m using the excellent Learn JavaScript Properly outline suggested by Richard of Stanley, and so far it’s going well.

Turns out I like JavaScript. A lot.

This is sort of a surprise to me, because I’ve heard JavaScript is weird. Inconsistent. Unreliable, even.

But I resonate with the C-based parts of the syntax, and it’s helping me understand the function-based parts that aren’t quite the same as Objective-C’s classes and methods. I’m learning from a solid base. And that’s reassuring.

I also feel like I can eventually build almost anything with JavaScript, and that’s motivating. I don’t feel like I’ll need to learn it for six months before I can do anything useful.

My “building/maintenance” focus remains on expanding and extending the plugin, so I have two tracks to switch between. This is my best mode of working, because even procrastination can become productive — if I get tired or burned-out on one thing, I can switch to the other. It also ensures I write code consistently and don’t get bogged down in only book-learning.

I’ll write a full-on technical post about the plugin soon.