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Reading the City

I think I’m transitioning pretty well to Bombay. I’m trying to do something new each today, from walking new streets to finally ordering food from a stand. When I first arrived, the overall urban fabric and street life was so different from what I was used to that I literally couldn’t read it. I didn’t know the signs, the cues that every city and culture has to establish what’s normal and what’s out of place. I know that I’m still missing the majority of the vocabulary, but things are starting to become legible.

The biggest way I’ve noticed this is that I’ve started to perceptually filter. We all do this normally every day, since the majority of the things in our environment are expected and repeated. But when I first arrived I was paying attention and focusing on everything all at once, which is pretty exhausting.

Sorry for the window glare, but the photos above are from the new IDEO office in Bandra, with downtown Mumbai in the distance in the first photo. It’s a raw space in a new building, and today we started working with an architect to design and build it out. I’m not sure if it will be complete by the time I leave, but I think it’s going to be a great space.

Monsoon Hike

Last weekend, my first in India, I went on a hiking trip with some of my co-workers. The mountain was roughly two hours east of Mumbai, with a tiny village at the base where we parked the car and set off in the rain. We trekked 3 hours up and 3.5 coming down, with rain alternating between downpour and clear skies every 20 minutes or so.

The ultimate goal was to reach the Kalavantin Pinnacle, an ancient lookout at the top of the mountain that used to protect a fort. The first leg of the hike was pretty casual with a well marked and sizable trail. On the plateau, about halfway up, we had an amazing view of the village down below. Over half a dozen waterfalls gushed along one side of the mountain, flowing more than usual due to the rain. On the flat top there were a few houses and a school before the final ascent upwards, which was much more steep and treacherous.

Eventually we made it to the base of the final pinnacle, which is where I had to call it quits. The final climb included carved steps, so I thought it was be manageable, but the stone was extremely slippery since it was raining and the drop-off was straight down 500 feet. My nervous stomach wouldn’t let me hoist myself up the slippery steps that were as high as my chest in that rain. The second photo below was taken by my colleagues who did have the guts to go all the way up.

Oh yeah, and I saw a wild monkey! Overall this was a pretty amazing experience and a great introduction to the Indian countryside. More photos are on Flickr.

First Week in India

I’m here! My first impressions of India pretty much align with what people told me ahead of time: lots of everything, rich and poor side-by-side, incredible density, crazy traffic, amazing and terrible smells. Mostly it’s just really exciting to be somewhere so different and try to make sense of how things work here.

My apartment, which I temporarily share with A. and M., is located in the Bandra neighborhood in the center/north of Mumbai. My office is nearby, just a mile away and I can either walk or take an auto rickshaw. The rickshaws are everywhere here and easily the most iconic vehicle on the street. They aren’t allowed south of Bandra for some reason, but I haven’t been into the central city yet so they’ve been swarming around me since I got here. They’re similar to a Vespa Ape that you might see in Italy, except with seating for 3 and meters for hire.

It’s working out okay to share an apartment since A. can show me the ropes and answer questions. One of the new things with the apartment is that every morning a women comes to clean and make food for the day. That’s right, everyday my kitchen gets refilled with a daily supply of  homemade Indian food. Speaking of food, I haven’t gone for a proper meal at a restaurant yet, so far it’s been really delicious, whether home cooked or takeout. I haven’t tried the street food yet, and some of it I should definitely avoid, but I’m trying to work up to it. I watched the No Reservations episode from Mumbai but it was pretty uninspiring — he mostly focused on gross out foods like brain. Come on Tony, don’t get all Andrew Zimmern on me.

Monsoon season has been living up to its reputation as well. It rains every day, many times throughout the day, and at least a once a day it’s hard enough to completely drench anyone caught outside even if they have an umbrella. It can be fun if you’re expecting it, which everyone is. Cricket games in the street continue as if nothing has changed and the traffic plows through the flooded streets unabated. It is quite nice since it cools things down, but it makes it a bit harder to explore the city.

Perfect for drunk dialing

One of the challenges in India will be finding a good time to communicate with friends and family back in the States. The majority of people I’ll talk to in realtime live in the Eastern or Central time zones, and Indian Standard Time doesn’t match up so nicely with most people’s schedules. I guess this is why outsourcing to India works so well.

I found the following chart that conveniently maps out the time differences. This will change in the Fall because India doesn’t observe Daylight Savings Time. On the upside, if you happen to have a bout of insomnia or want to catch up after the bars close then I’ll be wide awake.

Moving to India

In roughly 48 hours I’ll be on a plane to India and won’t be back home until mid-December. I’m going for work, to help out with the new IDEO Mumbai office that just opened. This trip is going to be include lots of firsts for me: first time living abroad, first time away from home for so long, first time in India, first time working in such a small office environment. Actually, the more I think about it the more I realize that nearly everything about this trip will be new experiences, which is what I’m most excited about.

If you want to keep up with me while I’m in India you’re in the right place, I plan to update this blog on a more frequent schedule. I’ll also be adding lots of photos to my Flickr account.

I should have consistent internet access while I’m there, including my iPhone. If you want to get in touch with me don’t call or text my normal number though. Skype is best (username: currentform), and I have a US phone number that redirects to my Skype account — just email me if you want it.

I’m super excited, but trying not to have too many expectations about what this experience will be like. I’m just going to roll with whatever happens and try to soak in as much as I can. If you have any tips, connections, must-see places, or warnings for me then please let me know.

Small Flock: Everyday micro-stories

I recently experimented with a personal challenge to write a very, very short story every day and used Twitter as a way of constraining myself to 140 characters. The stories don’t connect with each other or build off a singular theme — I just wanted write every day and see what kind of imagery or emotion I could create in such a short space.

Sometimes the stories came from events during my day, sometimes from my childhood, and often from my imagination. Because they’re so short, I see each one as just a pointer to a more complex moment or feeling. Anyway, after 100 days of writing micro-stories on Twitter the experiment has run its course.

The project was called Small Flock and is archived on a website I made ( to display each story, one at a time.

Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc

I just returned from watching Joan of Arc perform a live original score to the 1928 film The Passion of Joan of Arc as part of the opening night of CIMM Fest. It was obvious that they spent serious time with the film to craft such a seamless and moving soundtrack. I’ve seen Joan of Arc play many times but this show went above and beyond, especially impressive since it was a one-time performance. I can only hope someone was recording it so people can mash it up with a Netflix copy of the film anytime they want.

Words on Paper 2010

It’s clear that 2010 was the year eBooks really took off with the popularity of the Kindle and iPad. I experimented with digital reading myself, taking in one book entirety on my iPhone, but ultimately I plan to read my long-form titles via good old ink on paper. I’m trying to make the time to read more, and feel good that every week I can make it through my favorite magazine, The New Yorker. On top of that I managed to read a little over one book a month this year, not terrible but I’d like to increase that in 2011.

There was a time when my stack of reading material was entirely non-fiction, perhaps because I was in more of a student mode. These days I feel like I’m learning considerably more about myself and the world through fiction and thus the mix below has evened out.

2010 books, in the order I read them:

Anathem — Neal Stephenson
A Gesture Life — Chang-rae Lee
Downtown Owl — Chuck Klosterman
The Future of the Internet, And How to Stop It — Jonathan Zittrain
Summer Blonde — Adrian Tomine
How We Are Hungry — Dave Eggers
Nowhere Man — Aleksandar Hemon
Sketching User Experiences — Bill Buxton
Understanding Privacy —Daniel J. Solove
Kafka on the Shore — Haruki Murakami
What He’s Poised to Do — Ben Greenman
The Island of the Colorblind — Oliver Sacks
Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work! — Douglas Coupland

Covers of the books I read in 2010

Not Home 2010

I travelled a lot in 2010, more than any previous year; mostly this was for work, but not entirely. This was a year in which being gone was a pretty welcome feeling, where I felt strange if I hadn’t been to the airport in a few weeks. It isn’t sustainable (for me or the earth), and at times it was downright grueling, but in some ways I think it helped me get through this one.

I slept in a different city for 94 nights this year, with July being the only month spent entirely in Chicago. Here’s my list for 2010:

Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Beijing, China
Boston, MA
Hornu, Belgium
Kalamazoo, MI (x2)
Los Angeles, CA (x2)
Madison, WI
Milwaukee, WI (x2)
New York, NY (x2)
Paris, France
Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Rouen, France
Sacramento, CA
San Francisco, CA (x3 including 6 week stint)
Savannah, GA
Seattle, WA
Sturgis, MI (x5)
Tokyo, Japan
Washington, D.C.
Waukesha, WI


I just learned about this Montreal-based band from the Post Family blog and thought I should pass it along. Enjoy.