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personal – Page 2 – Rob Brogan

October 12, 2014Comments are off for this post.

Owl Café

After experiencing a cat café, David and I decided we had to experience an owl café. For about $20 you can spend an hour hanging out with a variety of owls. You can pet them - gently, on the head only - and hold them or set one on your shoulder. I held a little one, and put one of the big ones on my shoulder. It's one of those (many) experiences I've found that can't be captured in pictures, but I certainly tried!

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September 27, 2014Comments are off for this post.

Japan: Day 1

Writing from: Shimokitazawa

"Wow."

I know that's not the most profound statement, but it's probably the most appropriate.

Some context

I've wanted to go to Japan since at least my teen years, but until recently it was a vague goal of mine — I'll be there some day. With a new job in New York and a couple of interested friends (Chris and David), I was finally able to save for and plan a two-week trip to Japan.

First night

I'm going to skip the beginning. Suffice it to say that it took a while to find currency and then transport to our hotel for the first night. Oh yeah, and I'm not even counting the first night in Japan... that was just bizarre channel surfing and passing out at 4am.

First full day

David and I checked out of the Metropolitan Hotel Tokyo at noon, left our luggage in the lobby, and began wandering Ikebukuro — the neighborhood. We had a few hours before the apartment we rented would be ready, so we walked in no particular direction, in search of no particular thing, and discovering everything. Literally everything is interesting, stimulating, and new to me. It's so much that I don't know where to begin.

A palpable air of etiquette weighs over me in every circumstance. Oddly enough, my best reference is that of visiting my grandparents. They were the sweetest, kindest people, but you definitely knew to be very polite and respectful. It's the same in Japan. No one asks me to act a certain way, and there isn't even a hint of an admonishing glance when I may be less than polite, but know very well to be on my best behavior. Buying some snacks at a 7-11 is an awkward exchange of bowing my head excessively, presenting my money, receiving change as though it's a special gift, and saying ありがとう as I bow out.

For the first time in my life I am a distinct minority. It feels like the city is 99% ethnically Japanese. I notice one white person in a shop and she immediately stuck out. After using the bathroom and seeing myself in the mirror, I had this instant self judgement of "oh wow you are so white." I have never felt that before and I'm immensely grateful to Japan for giving me this context and experience. In Spain for a year I felt just like another person, and in Costa Rica during a few months I did feel different, but not extremely so. While it's clear that the physical differences are much more dramatic in this setting, I think the start cultural contrast is what heightens my awareness of this distinction. In other countries I've visited or lived, I knew the language (Spanish) and felt at least partially assimilated. Here, everything is different.

I think I've talked to all my friends about Japan before leaving and have heard plenty of their stories or stories of friends' trips... so I have difficulty giving credit when due. Someone told me that you might notice how some foreigners come to New York City and take pictures of seemingly every little thing, despite finding that a bit amusing, you'll soon be doing that yourself when you go to Japan. It's so true! I have heard that the Japanese don't particularly like it when you just walk around with your cellphone out the whole time, so I consciously keep it in my pocket, but sometimes I'll stop to capture unique advertising, street signs, or anything uniquely Japanese. I'll try to include a few examples below, but believe me, there's more of this on Path, Instagram, Twitter, etc etc...

Shimo

The AirBnB apartment that the three of us are splitting for our stint in Tokyo is located in the Shimokitazawa neighborhood. I posted some information about the area that I found during trip planning: here. The descriptions don't do it justice. We are in an amazing location! Describing it as "hip" is a start, and comparing it to Brooklyn's Williamsburg / hipster neighborhood is fair, but this place is a perfect concoction of cool. Everyone has different taste and values different types of space, but for me, this is perfection. It's dense, but extremely clean, relatively quiet (read: chill) for a bustling Saturday night, and heavily sprinkled with the salt and pepper of restaurants and shopping that I love; the first being distinctively Japanese, small, low-lit, and – by appearances – delicious, while the latter is eclectic, normal/high-priced (comparing to NYC), and heavily infused with American fashion. Most people are my age (I guess) but you see a few grannies shuffle by as well. I wish I had pictures of the area and I will try to take some when I go out tonight, but I am even more conscious of being a photo-snapping tourist when I'm in such a cool neighborhood.

In short, New York has been good "training wheels" for Japan, and as the metaphor suggest, easily pales in comparison. Yes, if you want diversity, New York is the best, but given that Japanese is 100% different for me, Tokyo easily wins my heart.

It reminds me of how I felt moving back home from Barcelona after a year: nothing compares to European cities, so I guess New York is the next best I can find in the USA. After living in NYC for a few years, it now feels like home and much more than a city-substitute, but Japan has awoken that sense of comfort, quality, and ease. I don't know why, but those are the words that come up when I think of how foreign cities make me feel. I think in some aspects they certainly do things "better" but I'm mystified how I can feel so comfortable in the unknown. I might take forever to deliberate a big purchase or make my next career move, but if a life abroad were offered to me, I'd have no qualms in packing it in and moving to wherever that may be. I have roots in New York now, so that wouldn't happen, but if I had a job, money for an apartment, and if Mary could come, then I could probably go anywhere. No problem.

Back to the trip, sorry.

Chris will arrive late tonight and join us at the apartment. I plan on finding some dinner around town, and maybe late night exploring if someone is willing to come out with me. Tomorrow should be full of wandering and maybe some specific sight-seeing.

If you're reading this and you know me (probably anyone reading this), I do have mobile wifi so you can reach me through iMessages, FaceTime, or snail mail - aka social media.

Cheers!
ε=ε=ε=ε=ε=ε=┌(; ̄◇ ̄)┘

September 12, 2014Comments are off for this post.

Comparing phone plans for the latest iPhone upgrade

I didn't make this as universal as possible, it's actually for a specific shopping scenario, but if it helps your decision by some chance then all the better!

My specifics:

I'm on a shared/family plan with a total of three lines and three iPhones. All are due for an upgrade (although we might just upgrade two of them).
Average data consumption is a bit over 3GB, so any plan needs at least 4GB of data. Average call time per month is about 1,200 minutes total, but nowadays all carriers have unlimited calling and texting as we shift to a data-only model. Lastly, each person would be upgrading to the iPhone 6 with 16GB storage.

Findings:

comparison of carrier cost for new iPhone

Lastly, I didn't include the trade-in discounts with the grand totals, but you can find the respective trade-in offers in the "fine print" at the bottom of the chart.

May 7, 2014Comments are off for this post.

Brooklyn Botanic Gardens

April 18, 2014Comments are off for this post.

Japan Travel Pro-tips

My co-worker friend Will has provided me with a pretty extensive write-up of tips and takeaways from his recent trip to Japan. Putting this up to share with my travel mates and for easy access in the future.

The feature image is the exterior of a Ryokan, referenced below.


General Trip Advice

Get a JR Rail Pass. You’ll need to do it in advance, and you have to pick it up the US before you head over.

In terms of navigating around, if you can pick up a pocket WiFi thing you can use Google Maps. (we picked up one of these: http://www.econnectjapan.com/products/wifi - really nice, they deliver it to your hotel and it includes packaging to ship it back before you leave the country).

If possible, I'd recommend you venture outside of the cities and see more of the countryside. We took a few day trips and spent one night in a mountain town, and even with that I wish we'd spent a lot more time outside of the city.

Tipping is not a thing in Japan. Taxis and restaurants don't accept it, so whatever your bill is – that's what you pay. If you leave a tip they'll probably chase you down trying to return the money you forgot on the table.

People will not mess with your stuff. You're basically safe leaving your things unattended (assuming they're out of the way), and no one would even think about taking them. It's just not something that happens.

Etiquette

More than language, you should try to study a bit of the etiquette before you go over there. Japanese behavior is very structured and therefore predictable, so after a while you'll learn to read context clues and navigate social situations pretty easily. A few pro tips:

  • Don't talk on the subway (unless you're in Osaka)
  • Don't eat/drink in public places, esp. while walking.
  • Be careful where/how you throw things away.

People are extremely polite and helpful, so you should have no trouble. I mean, the customer service at a 7-11 in Japan is on par with that of a 5-star hotel in the US. Speaking of...

7-11

This is your north star. Your safety net. Your mother's milk.
In Japan, 7-11 is a utopia filled with amazing food and resources, and it was the only place where the ATMs would accept our cards. If all else fails, look for the green and orange banner.


Golden Gai, highly recommended, a few alleys filled with tiny bars

Tokyo

Hotels

We stayed in two hotels. The first 2 nights were at the Cerulean Tower – it's a massive business hotel right near Shibuya crossing, so it has a strong Lost in Translation vibe. The rooms were fine. The best part was the cocktail bar on the 47th floor with live jazz and a view of the Tokyo skyline.

After that we spent about 5 nights in a hotel I really liked called Claska. It's quite small, the rooms are all unique, and it has a cafe, bar, design shop and dog grooming studio all within its walls. It's a bit far out from the main area of Tokyo, but it's actually near a good scene for design and fashion in this neighborhood called Nakameguro. I'd highly recommend it if you're ok being a bit removed.

Food

  • Ramen - you can't go wrong with it. The best we had was at a place called Afuri. At most of them, you purchase a ticket via a vending machine outside and bring it to exchange it at the bar.
  • Izakaya - Lots of great izakayas. Our favorite was definitely this place.
  • Soba - My favorite thing I ate in Japan was the soba at http://www.yutoku-soba.co.jp
  • Department stores - in Tokyo there are huuuge department stores, and on the bottom levels you’ll find hundreds upon hundreds of gourmet food stands. Many of them have free samples, so you can make an entire meal out walking around and trying lots of weird/delicious foods. The one we went to was called Mitsukoshi
  • 246 Common - pretty cool outdoor food market, sort of like Smorgasburg but in Tokyo.

Bars

  • Golden Gai – Not a bar but a neighborhood. Highly recommend this area for drinking – it’s basically a few alleys filled with tiny bars (3-6 seats each), often stacked on top of each other. Our favorite one was called Albatross (make sure it's the right one, there's another bar nearby with the same name that was no good)
  • Buri - cool little sake bar with hundreds of little sake jars on the wall. Looks like this.

Sights

  • Tsukiji Fish Market – v. awesome, but make sure you go early. We made the mistake of going around noon and only caught the tail end of it.
  • Ghibli Museum – if you're a fan of Miyazaki's work, or creative things in general, this is a must. It's amazing. A bit outside of town, so you’d need to allow half a day to make the trip. Also get tickets before you go.
  • Harajuku - crazy district famous for the Harajuku fashion scene. Not too many shops you'd actually want to spend money at, but it's totally worth exploring.
  • Shibuya crossing – needs no explanation.
  • Pachinko - not much fun to play but worth checking out a parlor
  • Akihabara - the electronics/anime district. Hasn't changed much since the 80s, so there isn't anything mind-blowing in terms of the actual technology, but the shops themselves are amazing. Go to the Mandarake store and prepare to get weird.
  • Mori Art Museum - Tokyo's main art museum, pretty great modern art, also super high up in the sky with an awesome observatory on the roof.

Shopping


Kyoto is beautiful

Kyoto

We stayed at a ryokan, which is a traditional inn (tatami floors, breakfast, etc.). It was amazing, but very expensive. So if you can afford it, you should by all means experience it – even just for a night. Otherwise there are plenty of normal hotels around, or you could stay in a capsule hotel.

Food

The Kyoto food market is incredible, and like the dept. stores in Tokyo you can subsist off of samples alone.

Shopping

We heard about this chopstick maker further out in Kyoto, Ohashi Kobo. The man who runs the shop is considered the best in Japan, and if you go there he’ll help you find the perfect set of chopsticks, taking into account your height, arm length, shape of hand, etc. It’s like something out of Harry Potter.

SOU SOU - cool shop that modernizes classic Japanese workwear. Stuff like this.

Sights

  • Temples – there are many temples but I'd recommend picking out 2-3 that interest you and spending some time at each. They're incredible, but honestly after a while they start to all look the same.
  • Gion District - Geisha territory. Great for wandering in the evening.

Drinks

Kazu. One of my favorite bars in the world. It is extremely difficult to find. Like, you literally have to walk down a few back alleys, cross over a garden, go up a backstreet and then a few flights of stairs to reach the door. Go at night. More


Awesome nightlife

Osaka

We only got to spend 2 days in Osaka, but it was one of my favorite parts of the trip. Awesome nightlife, good (and cheap) food, just all around fun and a nice break from the quiet, reserved mindset of other areas in Japan. We stayed in Dojima hotel. It was nice.

The only recommendations I really have are to go to the Dotonbori part of town and explore the scene. ENDLESS restaurants, bars, shops, nightlife in general. Two of my favorite Japanese foods come from Osaka: Okonomiyaki and Takoyaki. Eat them both, ideally after a few drinks.

We got okonomiyaki at a place called Chibo. It was excellent and I'd recommend it.


Wow, that was some excellent advice! Thanks again, Will. If anyone has something to add or critique, please let me know in the comments.

April 16, 2014Comments are off for this post.

El Born

An expensive taste of Barcelona! Worth it. I loved how everything was in Catalan!

April 13, 2014Comments are off for this post.

Japan Trip

It's (almost) official! I can call it official when I've bought my ticket, but I've decided to go in October and am starting my price hunt with friends Chris and David. We plan on doing two weeks of who-knows-what in this beautiful, far far away land. I've created a new category of posts for this site and will make it a sticky item in the navigation – Japan – to keep track of all the inspiration and handy references I find, or updates about plans made. It will also be where I post any updates from abroad or when we return.

March 28, 2014Comments are off for this post.

Life Updates

  1. New(ish) job
  2. New apartment
I don't presume to be internet famous, so it follows that my audience is probably people that are close to me. I never wanted to commit to a specific kind of website, and don't shy away from sharing good things I find elsewhere on the internet when I'm too lazy to make my own content, but I almost never write about life updates – except for right now.

I have a new job! Well, I've been there for a couple of months at this point. I am an Interaction Designer at Fjord NYC.

Fjord is an amazing place. I'm not quite sure how to describe it unless you have the context of being a designer in this industry already. In short: they do things the way I've thought they should be done all along. So I was very excited to learn about them and get the job. They also do really cool stuff like this:

Fjord Kitchens

A special gathering of Fjordians (and sometimes invited guests) to a semi-casual discussion about design with a panel of specialists to bring some depth and experience to the topic at hand.

Wow, I'm insanely jealous that Madrid got Dr. Aubrey de Grey to join in!
Check out his talk here, or browse all the talks on Vimeo.

Design Clinic

I'm not sure if this is specific to the NY office, but every Friday we grab some snacks, a beer, and gather around for design/techy show and tell.
We've had guests present really cool synthesizers (below) or talk about programming languages and linguistic diversity (also below). We've also had some great in-house Clinics with our own Fjordians – from a group tutorial on improv to prototyping experiences with Playmobil.

Critter & Guitari Synths (amazing product videos)

Ramsey Nasser chatted with us about programming experiments and the significance of language in coding

The Office

I love the open design and flat-office structure. Everyone sits with everyone at lunch. Oh, you can draw on anything, and damn does Fjord love Post-Its.


New Apartment

I'd like to post more about this later, when I have pictures, but I just moved to a new apartment (yes, I keep moving all around Brooklyn) and I finally live on my own! It is still sinking in, but it's hard to fathom that I've never lived on my own before. How can that be? Yes, I've lived independently, with roommates, for about ten years. I just never had a place all to myself.

I'm still working through the everyday decisions like: do I be a slob, or a neat freak? Because really, I could do either! I really want to create an immaculate space for myself, so I try to keep everything clean; but on the other hand I can just toss things on the floor with abandon when I'm lazy.

No Furniture

My furniture situation seems to fluctuate as I gather things and accumulate more with each apartment, but then other times, reduce greatly when I have to move to a smaller space. Living in Barcelona I really only had two big suitcases of belongings. That's as light as I've been. My last apartment had a very small room, so I had no choice but to get rid of the nice big couch I had previously, and even things like a microwave that my roommates didn't want to use. (Hey, storage costs money.)

Previous Apartment

See? Barely anything!
Note: If you're on a mobile device, this will move with your device if you point it in different directions. Give it a try!

No Housewarming (yet)

So, with no table, no chairs, no couch, no place to set up the TV... I can't yet invite people over to celebrate. It's going to be a slow build as I accumulate things and get it how I want. Once I'm there, I'll let everyone know and be happy to invite them over.

Oh, here's my new address:

Okay, so that's about it for the personal updates. If I take pictures of the new place, I'll be sure to post them here.

March 17, 2014Comments are off for this post.

Girona

Girona is a beautiful, ancient city just a short train ride (about 60 miles northeast) from Barcelona. One of the major Catalan cities, its quiet demeanor and graceful structures make it feel like a small, quaint town. I've visited a couple of times, and after going to the Cloisters Museum in New York, the parallels of art and architecture reminded of Girona. A snippet of history and wiki link follows the gallery.

Here is a sizable gallery of photos I dug up from my trips in 2008 and 2009 — 

A brief history
The first historical inhabitants in the region were Iberians; Girona is the ancient Gerunda, a city of the Ausetani. Later, the Romans built a citadel there, which was given the name of Gerunda. The Visigoths ruled in Girona until it was conquered by the Moors. Finally, Charlemagne reconquered it in 785 and made it one of the fourteen original countships of Catalonia. Thus it was wrested temporarily from the Moors, who were driven out finally in 1015. Wilfred the Hairy incorporated Girona into the countship of Barcelona in 878. Alfonso I of Aragón declared Girona to be a city in the 11th century.

February 8, 2014Comments are off for this post.

February Photo Dump!

January 12, 2014Comments are off for this post.

Photo recap of the month

January 12, 2014Comments are off for this post.

Create, share, with an open heart

Social media making people anti-social, and other inhibitions to creating

Inhibitions

It’s a bit ironic that the best writing tools are my greatest hindrance to doing any writing whatsoever. Great design, rich context, and a huge audience can all be detriments… with the wrong attitude.

I find it so hard to start writing because Medium has a gorgeous design. So minimal and so editorial is its design that I can’t help but think it deserves proper content, not mine. It feels like an open invitation to write for A List Apart! What do I have to offer that is completely my own? I feel hesitant to share a truly invested opinion that isn’t already backed by thousands of notes, RTs, likes, etc.. As I write this, uncertain if I’ll hit publish, I realize I’ve becoming docile and habituated by the “features” (user patterns) of Tumblr, Twitter, and modern Facebook; re-blogging media that is likely more interesting than something I could make, re-tweeting my own opinions once they’re authored by a more popular account, or sharing some video about activism, art, or science on my news feed instead of answering that scary question — what’s on your mind?

facebook

Despite form field suggestions, people are sharing less of themselves.

There’s the context of publishing platforms that holds me back as well. Look at all these great, interesting, informative, and emotional pieces you are all writing and sharing — I presume have nothing of the sort.

Lastly, there’s the audience that holds me back. I remember the days when the Web was anonymous by default; everyone had an obscure username. I made a few geeky aliases back in the day, but I felt like I was one of the minority trying to create a cohesive identity online. I stuck to one consistent moniker, Robrogan. Fast forward to contemporary internet, and people have to try to be anonymous and work to keep up appearances with a multi-channel social presence. You aren’t just a blogger on one site; you are everywhere. So, just like 12-year-old me reading a class assignment in front of a room of my peers, I now feel like anything I might write will be read by dozens (hundreds? thousands?) of my peers, who are all presumably much better informed than myself.

On the more positive side

I’m not as self-deprecating as I might’ve made myself out to be, that was just to illustrate all of the forces against me creating my own content. I do have a website where I share a miscellany of media, text, and recommendations. I also love to take pictures, edit them just so, and share with my friends on Path, contribute to the VSCO Grid, and the handful of standard networks too.

First major snowfall of 2013, in front of NY Public Library, Manhattan

First major snowfall of 2013, in front of NY Public Library, Manhattan

I do get around to writing once in a while, too. The caveat to that is usually that I’m basing my blog post on the core content another blog post. My favorite being the UX Myths. In short: I do create, and share my own information. I doubt doing so every time. I’m resolving to fight those doubts, however, facing Gary Vaynerchuck’s proposition to everyone on Twitter to write one Medium post at the top of this new year, and Srinivas Rao’s piece on How Writing 1000 Words a Day Changed My Life that provided some very necessary inspiration.

Share something with an open heart, not authority

In the last couple of years I have been voraciously consuming information about new practices, schools of thought, and examples of User Experience Design. This hunger to be at the forefront of my career has brought me to various authorities on the web, and while I’ve learned a lot from the content, I’m just now reflecting on the context. What you write is bound to be influenced by what you read. I noticed this when I was in school, reading classic American novels. I don’t know why I would think reading on the web wouldn’t count. The impact might be somewhat stylistic, but I think there is so much respect around the author — shown by the numbers alongside various social media badges — that if you don’t cary that same respect* then your contribution wouldn’t be worth the effort. I’ve been qualifying anything and everything I put online with this concept of authority of authorship. I should be putting everything out there with a more compassionate perspective of an open heart; if something is gained from what I write, then something is gained, and if not, then nothing is lost but my own time. The very act of writing is an exorcise to organize my thoughts, so in this regard there is no true loss of time.

* i.e. Identity on the web. A whole topic in itself, that I alluded to at the beginning of this post.


I’m feeling that restraint again.

A large part of me knows that the typical attention span online won’t get you this far down the page. While I’m sitting here I’ve only just touched on a couple of things I could write about, and at great length, but I don’t want to weigh down this post just yet. One thousand words is a noble goal, and I believe 929 will be an admirable enough first attempt. Tomorrow perhaps I’ll pick up on of the points above and reach that first mark.