Feb 052013

I just woke up in my apartment for the first time in a while. OK, I slept here Thursday night and Friday night too, but between jet lag and rushing around to be places (more on that in a minute) it’s almost as if it never happened. The place is a bit of a mess – piled up mail all over the table, the remainders of last night’s superbowl leftovers hanging onto dishes in the sink, and an unmade bed that I’m still lying in.

OK, now that I’ve set the scene, I’ve a few things to blog about today, so let’s break this down…

English: Dmitri Yarochenko during sprint in Po...

English: Dmitri Yarochenko during sprint in Pokljuka in 2007 Polski: Dmitrij Jaroszenko podczas sprintu w Pokljuce w 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

1. Leaving Ljubljana Vegas, Part Dve (that’s Slovenian for “two”):

Why not start here – Brooke and I spent the last two weeks back in Ljubljana. Celtra needed her there to sync up with her team, so I asked Zemanta if I could go too and sync up with my guys as well. Overall impressions were that it felt as if we never left – aside from the new Bazilika, staying in someone else’s awesome apartment, and the urgency to try and see as many people as possible in what seemed like barely any time at all, I think we both felt right back at home in Slovenia. We worked basically for the entire duration of being there minus a couple of weekend days off. I spent my birthday cross country skiing in Pokljuka with friends, enjoying a huge late lunch at a traditional Gostilna in a small village, eating a homemade blueberry pie (thanks Katja!), watching the Celtics/Heat go to double overtime, and then having some drinks at Bikofe. I played music with my old band, listened to a talk at Spletne Urice (and another at FRI), and played basketball with the old crew. Things were right back to normal, and before we knew it we were saying goodbye yet again before being yanked back across the Atlantic Ocean to New York (aboard an Airbus A380, mind you!).

Perfect caffe latte from Cafe Coffee Day

Perfect caffe latte from Cafe Coffee Day (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

2. The Quest For The Cup:

Fast forward a long, turbulent flight, hours of immigration/security checks, traffic back to Manhattan, walking into my apartment to have my coat rack fall on the floor, and a jet lagged attempt at sleep, followed by a full work day back in the New York office, an awesome dinner followed by a great show with good friends in Williamsburg, and it was Saturday morning (at 5 am, cursed jet lag!) before I knew it. Time to catch up on mail, unpack from being away, and repack for a weekend with family in Long Island before the next galavant, but before that, I needed a fix of kava s mlijekom to get my head right.

And with that, let me kick off The Quest For The Cup, a new series of blog posts in which I will try and find my perfect cup of coffee in New York City. I’ve never been a coffee person (outside of coffee ice cream), but while living in Slovenia I got really accustomed to a nice “kava s mlijekom”, or “coffee with milk”, every now and then, especially in the morning, or after a big lunch. Upon coming back to America, I’ve found my Slovenian coffee experience a bit hard to replicate, so I’ve decided to make a point of actually trying instead of just complaining about it. To begin with, I’ve found out that “kava s mlijekom” is called “caffe latte” in America. This whole coffee culture is very confusing to me, especially as my Italian correspondant Valentina tells me that you can’t just order a “latte”, because in Italian “latte” means milk, and it would be silly to order a milk.

OK, so let’s definite some logistics here: this series will follow me on a search across various NYC coffee shops for the perfect caffe latte. As for judgement criteria, taste is obviously the most important – I’m no coffee connoisseur, but I’d like to think that taste is subjective to the particular coffee drinker, and that I can comfortably say that I enjoy coffee from Cafetino more than coffee from Tivoli Pub (although both are better than the experiences I’ve had in New York so far). Other judgement criteria will include friendliness of waitstaff, cost of coffee (around 1,60 EUR was a common price in Slovenia), wait time/crowdedness, ambiance of the coffeeshop, coffee served in mug vs. paper cup (we want the mug!), ability to get a glass of water with your coffee (standard in Slovenia, usually without asking), and whether the coffee comes with any sort of cookie/treat (also typical in Slovenia).

With our judgement criteria defined, let’s jump back to Saturday morning and onto our first Quest For The Cup candidate, Ciao For Now. I’ve been eyeing up this coffee spot for months now with a fantasy that it might become my personal neighborhood haunt, the kind of place where everyone knows your name and your personal order, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves… The barista was super friendly, had a great attitude, and did her best to accomodate the queue of approximately five at any given time while I was there, but she was unfortunately the only one working, which meant a 15 minute or so standing-in-line wait for coffee. All of the edibles looked excellent, and I ended up ordering a small “monster cookie” with my caffe latte, which combined cost me $6 (I also got a yogurt parfait thing to take home for Brooke for $5, which she absolutely loved). The ambiance was good, even if the poppy music wasn’t my first choice, and the small space comfortably suited the small crowd of a few individuals, an overly publicly affectionate couple, and a father-mother-daughter combo. The coffee was above average, but served in a paper cup, and there was a sign saying something to the effect of them no longer offering glasses of water, but being happy to fill up a water bottle, which of course I didn’t have on me. I decided not to ask. My overall impression is that this isn’t exactly the neighborhood coffee shop I imagined in my head, although it showed promise. The quest certainly isn’t over, but I definitely wouldn’t mind stopping in here again.


Ballet (Photo credit: wwward0)

3. The Year of the Rabbit:

Coffee drank, repacked for Super Bowl weekend in Long Island with family, but one more stop before Penn Station – my amazing coworkers in Slovenia chipped in and bought me two passes to see The New York City Ballet’s interpretation of Sufjan Stevens’ Year of the Rabbit for my birthday! We headed uptown to Lincoln Center and settled into our seats where we enjoyed three excellent performances of interesting juxtaposition. The first performance, Glass Pieces, was minimalistic and powerful with simple but effective costumes. Year of the Rabbit was a bit more playful and adventurous, experimental and exploratory with very Sufjanesque costumes complete with Michigan blue. These two pieces were in stark contrast to the third piece, Vienna Waltzes, which was much more traditional yet equally impressive, complete with classic Balanchine choreography. The orchestration was excellent throughout, and I still can’t figure out how the dancers move like that – such athleticism, strength, and grace. Thanks again ZMen, excellent gift!

4. Today in Music:

I needed to take a bit of time this morning to clear my head, clear my inbox, clear my head (blog a bit), and of course read my (mostly) music news, so without further ado, let me share the last bit of my morning before heading into the office:

That’s all for now – seize the day people!


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Jan 222013
English: View of Ljubljana from Castle Hill, u...

View of Ljubljana from Castle Hill, under the snow. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s 07:24, and I’m awake.

I could curse the jet lag, as I’ve been lying awake in bed for about two restless hours now, but I won’t, because the morning is here and if it weren’t for the jet lag, I never would have known. What wouldn’t I have known? How truly awesome 07:24 can be. If I were adjusted to the time, I’m sure I’d still be asleep for a while longer, clutching onto those last precious moments, and then when I finally woke up it would be forced and unpleasant. Instead, here I am, awake, warm, sipping a hot tea, and totally at ease. I watch from behind a hand-made window as the snow falls on beautiful Ljubljana, a guest in someone else’s beautiful home. The street lights begin to dim out and a train rolls through Tivoli in the background. The sound of cars begins to become more frequent, and Davorin‘s Foursquare checkins light up my phone. I put it back down though, for my workday mindset hasn’t started yet, and the frenzy of another busy New York City morning is light years away.

More tea…

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Oct 252012

Preface: I drafted most of this post in my head at 4 in the morning in a van from Ljubljana to Venice, where I jumped on a plane to Dusseldorf, waited around for 6 hours, and hopped another plane to JFK Airport. Lack of energy on that day, 15 October 2012, plus the insanity that comes with moving your life across an ocean, has kept me from actually physically writing this post out for the last week and a half, but without further ado, here it is…


That’s how it starts We go back to your house We check the charts And start to figure it out
So what is this post all about?

The short story: I’ve been living in Ljubljana, Slovenia for the last couple of years or so, and just moved back to New York. This is a description of that whole thing, wrapped up in short (or as close to “short” as it can be), and my feelings on coming back.

The long story, from the beginning: After studying abroad in Copenhagen by chance for a semester in 2006, I got a real itch to see more of the world and experience what it has to offer. I became obsessed with the concept that there were actually people living in farther reaches of this planet than I could imagine, and getting by just fine without the “comforts” of whatever I’ve been accustomed to for my first twenty-something years of life.

And if it’s crowded all the better, Because you know we’re gonna be up late And if you’re worried about the weather Then you picked the wrong place to stay That’s how it starts
At that time my responsible instincts took over and told me “Birthday or not, don’t go with Paco“. So I returned to Washington, DC in mid-2006 to finish up my senior year of college. Then there was a masters program. Then there was a job. And a girl. And New York, the city I’d wanted to live in for my whole life. And an apartment with two of my best friends who I hadn’t spent much time with since high school. And yet somehow, everything I’d always wanted wasn’t enough. For years now I’d dreamt about traveling Europe, speaking in foreign tongues, eating local cuisines, seeing the sun rise and set in places I could only dream of, and interacting with (and becoming one of) the locals. Would this ever come to fruition? Well, I already spoiled that answer for you above, so yes, but what made it so?
And so it starts You switch the engine on We set controls for the heart of the sun One of the ways that we show our age
Well, things change, people change, hairstyles change, interest rates fluctuate… Things ended with the girl, the job came to an end, and after a deep conversation during a mans weekend I realized that simply talking about what you want in life isn’t good enough – you have to put the wheels into motion yourself and start taking actual steps towards your goals or you will never realize them. Actions speak louder than words. So I set my full sights on moving to Europe. I moved home to my aunt and uncle’s house in Long Island, played the commuting game for a while, tried to go to fewer concerts, and saved some money. I scoured the internet looking for work – in Paris, in Barcelona, anywhere really. Then FINALLY, through a contact in the New York Tech Meetup listserve I became in touch with Boštjan Špetič, which led to Skype interviews with Andraž Tori, Dušan OmerčevićMarko Mrdjenovič and a few others on the Zemanta team at that time, and before I knew it I was on a plane bound for Ljubljana, Slovenia via Munich. It was that easy!
You spent the first five years trying to get with the plan And the next five years trying to be with your friends again
OK, so it wasn’t THAT easy. After the first job ended, I ended up getting a sweet new one somewhere else. I ended up meeting another girl. My interviews at Zemanta went semi-ok, as I’d been away from true CS problems for a few years – the bottom line is that I think they took a big chance on me and I want to say here and now that I am truly grateful. Sure, me moving from the New York startup community to the Ljubljana, Slovenia startup community is me taking a big chance on them too, but they’re the ones who made my European dream possible in the first place. On top of all of this, my cousin Nathaniel had plans to get married in late January, around the time I’d intended to go, but I wasn’t deterred. I postponed my potential move date and made a concrete plan.
It comes apart The way it does in bad films Except the part Where the moral kicks in
I told my sweet new job that I was leaving. I spent time with my family. I went to the first wedding of my generation of my family and ate one of the best breakfasts of my life, surrounded by the people that I love the most in this world. I asked the new woman to move to Europe with me. She said yes. We made plans for her to join me in Slovenia a few months after I’d arrived there, and the rest would fall into place. I booked a ticket and headed for Europe. Škrat picked me up from the airport on that grey Slovenian winter day (one of the first of many logistics that he helped me with over the last two years, for which I am truly grateful) and so began what I’d been dreaming about for years.
I wouldn’t trade one stupid decision For another five years of life
So, what did I want out of this experience?

I wanted to move somewhere new where I could experience new and foreign traditions and language. I wanted to learn and experience firsthand a culture and heritage of a people that I didn’t already know. I wanted to travel. I wanted to see a cycling race. I wanted to get into shape. I wanted to read. I wanted to cook. I wanted to drink outside. I wanted to see the sun rise and set in foreign lands. I wanted to make local friends. I wanted to live without the comforts of things that I was used to for the first 26 years of my life, and I didn’t want to have a concrete return date. And after everything, I wanted to know myself and the place that I had come from better.

You drop the first ten years just as fast as you can And the next ten people who are trying to be polite When you’re blowing eighty-five days in the middle of France Yeah, I know it gets tired, only where are your friends tonight?
So I got weird.

I moved out of my comfort zone, to a magical place called Slovenia. A fairytale city with dragons and castles. I took Slovenian lessons. I drank coffee. I drank red beer and green beer. I celebrated Pust (Slovenian Carnival, kind of like Halloween) in Cerknica. I went to local web meetups and even spoke at some of them. I spoke at the university. I read books (yes more than one!). I spent time hacking together side projects into the wee hours of the night. Some things I finished, some things I didn’t. I made friends. Lots of them. I joined a band and had a bunch of gigs. I bought soap/shampoo/deodorant at the local shops. I shopped for fresh produce at the local market weekly and cooked most nights of the week, learning to make many new dishes along the way. I got in shape – I completed the Rapha Rising Challenge, successfully climbing 6881 meters on my bike in the span of a week. I spent ten days traveling around the Croatian islands with my phone off. I swam in the Mediterranean. I ate fresh fish. I slept on the deck of an overnight ferry under the stars. I watched the sun set and I watched it rise again. I drank more coffee. I hiked. I went cycling, swimming, canoeing, paintballing, and canyoning. I ate well and I slept well. I wore slippers. I ate Chinese food, Thai food, and sushi. I ate octopus, squid, lobster, crab, and shrimp. I drank wine from a variety of excellent European wine regions. I saw many of the major European capitals. I spoke Slovenian, Italian, Dutch, Serbo-Croatian, Spanish, French, Danish, German and Czech. I paid with Euro, Kuna, Tolar, Koruna, Pound, and Kroner. I flew in planes. I rode trains and looked out the window. I drove cars (and go karts). I looked out over the sea from ferry boats. I ate Christmas dinner. I spent New Years Eve dodging fireworks and drinking champagne, beer, and mulled wine. I drank wine in the hills of several Italian wineries. I saw some of the best cyclists in the world race over the Poggio in the Milano-San Remo cycling race. I went to the Berlin Buzzwords conference. I reconnected with old friends and saw ghosts from a former life in Copenhagen. I hosted two passover seders. I drank homemade schnapps, rakija, and medica (not all at once). I went to Okotoberfest. I stayed in a bar after it closed with locals in Budapest. I saw all of the craziness surrounding the royal wedding in person. I experienced a surprise wedding reception for two really good friends. I experienced the bright morning sun after many nights in Metelkova. I ate at Nobel Burek. I celebrated the Jewish high holidays in Vienna, Ljubljana, and Trieste. I DJd. I snuck into the music school and played piano. I drank on the streets. I went snowboarding in Slovenia, Austria, and Italy. I went dog sledding. I lost my favorite hat. I gave away my second favorite hat. I shaved my head (twice). I left something behind.

I traveled to Bled (Slovenia), Groningen, IKEA in Italy, Zagreb (Croatia), London, Birmingham (England), Ferrara (Italy), Venice, Piran (Slovenia), Florence, Bled (again), Trieste (Italy), Vienna, Šmarna Gora (Slovenia)Koper (Slovenia), Vienna (again), Piran (again)The Škojcan Caves (Slovenia), Lipica (Slovenia), Trieste (again), Trnfest (Trnovo, Ljubljana), Rijeka (Croatia), Cres (Croatia), back to Rijeka, Hvar (Croatia), Split (Croatia), Bohinj (Slovenia), Piran (again, this time with the boys for a man’s trip), ParisNew York CityBostonLjubljana, Venice (again), Paris (again), Prague (New Years Eve), Heiligenblut (Austria), Kranjska Gora (Slovenia), Dog Sledding Somewhere In Italy, Krvavec (Slovenia), Heiligenblut (again), Vienna (again), Kranj (Slovenia)Podpeč/Preserje (Slovenia), Milano/Alba/Asti/San Remo/Porto Fino (Italy) with Jones and the boys, Turjak (Slovenia), FRI (CS University) Ljubljana, Slovenia, Budapest, Cinque Terra (Italy)Stožice (Ljubljana, Slovenia), Koper (again), Krk (Croatia), Barcelona, Berlin, Copenhagen, Trieste (again), Velika Planina (Slovenia), Krk (again)Toško Čelo (Slovenia), Orle (Slovenia), Javor (Slovenia), Prezganje (Slovenia), Dubrovnik (Croatia), Piran (again), Maribor (Slovenia), Vintgar Gorge (Slovenia), Plitvice Lakes (Croatia), Povile (Croatia), Postojna Caves (Slovenia), and Munich (Oktoberfest, Germany) among other places that I didn’t take pictures of and/or forgot to mention.

I saw Dum Dum GirlsAloe Blacc, Mulatu Astatke, Sufjan StevensArrested Development (yes THAT Arrested Development!), Xiu Xiu, Slovenia vs. Belgium (soccer)Cara Beth Satalino, Balmorhea, Fleet FoxesUSA vs. Slovenia (soccer), Elton John, Damir Advić, some Kung Fu thing at Hala Tivoli, Lambchop, Tune Yards, Des Ark, Nils Frahm, Shearwater, Ljubljana vs. Austria (hockey), Ronan Marquet, DJ Tanja, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, Julia Holter, some Croatian surf rock band, Sigur Ros, Japandroids, Damir Advić (again), and countless other shows and events that I also either didn’t take pictures of, forgot to label the pictures of, and/or forgot to mention.

To tell the truth, this could be the last time So here we go, like a sail’s force into the night And if I made a fool, if I made a fool, if I made a fool On the road, there’s always this And if I’m sewn into submission I could still come home to this
And now the tough part. How/when/why did we decide that this adventure was over (for now) and what did that mean?

I think that we both knew in the back of our minds somewhere that we’d move back to the States at some point. Part of the allure of this experience for me was that it was a one way ticket until I decided otherwise, but at some point I think I knew that I would decide otherwise.

My mom had been over to visit the first summer, and Brooke’s brother and mom spent Christmas with us, but the reality is that both of our families are much larger than that, and we’re very close to them. We’ve got cousins and aunts and uncles and brothers and sisters and nieces and nephews who we love dearly, and despite what the world has to offer, being close to the people you love offers infinitely more.

Ljubljana is an amazing place, and will always be a large part of both mine and Brooke’s lives. When we started talking about moving back and being near our families, we had a discussion over a drink on our balcony and said that if it weren’t for our families not being there, we could probably go on living that life forever. The pace of life was good. We were happy. We had friends. What more could we want? But the reality of the situation was that our families were far away, and we wanted to be closer.

So we announced that we were moving back to New York, which was surprisingly one of the harder things I’ve ever had to do. It was like breaking up with a girl – you know it’s for the best and you don’t mean to offend, but you also care about the other person and are worried about how they will take it. I definitely got a little verklempt when telling my coworkers, my band mates, and my friends, and I think Brooke did as well. It was almost as if I couldn’t make the words come out. Following the realization that we were actually leaving, and our final European travels (this time around), #TheLastTime got stretched out into a series of parties (planned and unplanned), a farewell gig for my band, the selling and giving away of most of our household things, lots of emotion, lots of hugs, and lots of drinking. When Brooke and I talked about it later and looked back on those last few weeks, we were really humbled by what we experienced and felt. Not only did we get to see Europe, get to work at two awesome companies with great coworkers, and have some of the best experiences of our lives, but we also made some amazing friends along the way who truly care about us.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, thank you guys for all of this. Thank you for letting us into your culture and for helping us to experience what we did. It means the world to both of us.

And with a face like a dad and a laughable stand You can sleep on the plane or review what you said When you’re drunk and the kids look impossibly tan You think over and over, “hey, I’m finally dead” Oh, if the trip and the plan come apart in your hand You look contorted on yourself, you ridiculous prop You forget what you meant when you read what you said And yeah we knew you were tired, but then, Where are your friends tonight?
So, did I get what I wanted out of the experience?

In the end did I do all of the things that I wanted to do? Yes.

Did I get everything out of this experience I possibly could have? Yes.

Do I have any regrets? No.

Where are your friends tonight? Where are your friends tonight? If I could see all my friends tonight If I could see all my friends tonight If I could see all my friends tonight If I could see all my friends tonight
Why did we move back to New York? To be near our families (and to start on the next great adventure, duh!)

Where are our friends tonight? In New York, Ljubljana, and everywhere in between.


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Mar 282012
Android Robot. Français : le logo d'android 日本...

Android Robot. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Yeah, I know that I’ve been gone for a while, and no, this post won’t have anything to do with music, except to tell you that if you’re in Ljubljana tonight and missing Nils Frahm at Menza pri Koritu then I don’t know what to tell you.

No, today’s post is about finishing and what that means. I was going to start with a dictionary definition, but I think you all know what “finish” means. It means bringing a task or activity to an end; completing something that you started.

In truth, I don’t finish many of the things I start. When I was a kid I quit hockey. In middle school, The Boy Scouts. In high school I quit the swim team after one year. I started a company in college that we disbanded a few years later – in that time (Facebook‘s early days, when there was still space there) we built an entire social network that we never launched to more than a few hundred people. I remember when Facebook first opened their platform, and some of the proofs of concept Facebook apps that I came up with. I was also there with a handful of ideas and prototypes when Foursquare launched their API. Several years ago now, I wrote an entire autonomous Twitter bot platform that I’ve never officially done anything with. Before I moved to Slovenia I spent a few months screwing around with an Arduino, never to actually build anything long-standing or useful. In the last year and a half, I wrote the meat of a brilliant and complex social/gaming web application, working with an excellent UX person who is plugged into New York City’s thriving tech scene (she has friends at TechCrunch, in several influential tech startups, etc.), yet we still haven’t brought it across the finish line. When Android first came out I switched to TMobile and bought the G1. I was at all of the NYC Android meetups. In the last few years, I’ve written seven or eight interesting Android apps that are in a half-finished state sitting in my Eclipse workspace and/or on only my phone. I have all the excuses in the world (hockey got rough, boy scouts got boring, swimming wasn’t fun, no time, lost interest, etc.), but when all is said and done, what it boils down to is that I don’t finish things.

As a side note to any employers who think that they hired/are hiring/will hire a dud, I’m speaking strictly about things that I do/build in my free time; when it comes to a job and being professional, yes I do finish all of the tasks required of me. It is in my code of ethics to uphold my contractual obligations.

But why don’t I uphold that same code of ethics for things that I don’t get paid for? Why don’t I finish things?

I think that the answer lies in the fact that I love making a good proof of concept. I love mock ups. I love the kind of instant gratification that a prototype offers. I love spending enough time with a technology to learn about how it works, grasp it, and build something with it. Maybe my quest for knowledge is breadth-first? Back when I was a junior dev in my first startup, our chief architect (also a good friend) used to compare me and my colleague, saying that I’m like a sponge, soaking up all of the knowledge that I can about everything that I work on, while my colleague strived to finish each assignment as quickly as possible without needing to know why things worked, just that they did. I guess it’s good to have both types on your team. The yin and the yang.

Fast-forward to yesterday in the office: I was about to show off an Android app that I built this past weekend to a few coworkers, when my friend Drazen asked if it was the same app that I showed a few weeks before. I replied that it was something new that I cooked up from my bed this past Sunday morning. Drazen laughed and (rightfully) pointed out the fact that I don’t finish anything. At the time I was like “yeah, yeah” and shook it off, but his words stuck in my head for the remainder of the day. Last night at around midnight I fired up Eclipse, determined to finish what I started. At around 02:30 I had a fully working implementation of my gag app with basic functionality. I quickly read the release docs for the Android Market (now “Google Play”), registered for a developer account, paid the $25, signed my .apk file, posted a couple of shitty screen grabs and descriptions, and by 03:30 I officially had a finished product sitting on the Android Market, available to the masses!

I now present to you, Talking James! A proof of concept of finishing.

QR code for Talking James on the Android Market

QR code for "Talking James" on the Android Market


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