[S05 E07] “The Gift”

My vagabond shoes, they are longing to stray

So going to be a slightly all over the place note with a few photos just to make up for it this week. Mainly as I have been in New York all week — got back this morning and am currently feeling pretty sub-optimal!

I love New York — pretty sure I have written that in one of these #weeknotes before — and I was staying on the Lower East Side again which I am a huge fan of. Logistically it was a mixed bag — I flew from Bristol via Dublin to take advantage of US immigration pre-clearance. There was a lot of queuing, a moment of panic when I lost track of my boarding pass and an awkward wait when the woman in front of me was ‘invited’ to have a discussion in the backroom by the immigration agent. Despite all this it was still miles better than getting crammed into JFK. The plane however was ancient and my headphones socket didn’t work so no movies for me (nor was there a USB charger). Still it was fine.

I ended up getting the wrong MetroCard which meant I ended up with 10 trips on the AirTrain (8 left!) and nothing for the subway. This was not ideal and meant buying another card almost immediately. Still I knew the route pretty well and had no problem getting to the hotel. Which was just as well as in another slight annoyance my Three SIM that I have used for all my trips abroad the last couple of years was pretty much useless in New York as they have no 3G anymore and Three don’t support 4G internationally. So I have the edge of Edge if I was lucky. Oh and it turned out the hotel we had been booked into wasn’t paid for as we had been told — but to be honest the hotel was so much nicer than anywhere I usually stay I was OK with that (and it got sorted.)

Soooo anyway. It was all a bit awkward without really being a problem.

The hotel was lovely and themed around art work by legendary graffiti artist Lee Quiñones so I was happy. I also had a hit list of food places nearby which I was able to hit up (BBQ, Thai, Italian and Katz’s Deli!) which was wonderful as usual.

Why was I there? Well I’ve mentioned before our ambitions for a ‘democratic commons’ and that Facebook are a factor in that and this was a 3 day workshop with their Civic Tech team to discuss the possibilities and to come up with a plan of some kind. I can’t really talk about much of the detail but I will say it was intense. There was very little give in the long days, the subjects were frequently very detailed and there was a real pressure to come away from each days with actions (some required the next day.)

The Facebook team were pretty much what you would expect to some extent — young, extremely smart, hard working, geeky and pretty loyal to their employer. They were also self aware (they understood the challenges of doing an open project with them), extremely civic minded and good company.

The office(s) also lived up to what you would expect in most ways. There was a LOT of free food and drinks. The food was extremely good and the drink stations were all over the place. The wall art was cool and the work spaces were a mix of open plan, small meeting rooms and random clusters of people. There were many, many Macbooks 🙂

Things I found amusing but reassuring: the guest wifi sucked, there were problems booking meeting rooms, someone used the wrong kind of pen on a whiteboard, there were struggles getting things on screens and security was a nightmare (getting in took longer each day and we had to be escorted to the restrooms.) Oh and Facebook went down internationally while we were there.

I was impressed by the team but not intimidated (which I kind of thought I might be). Turns out I can hold my own in these conversations mainly just due to a mix of experience and bluster!

We came away with potentially an even more ambitious plan than we arrived with and my head is spinning at the scale of what we are aiming to do. It is bloody exciting though.

Oh and the additional factor that made the days challenging was waking up at 5am each day and doing a couple of hours work before we set off to the workshop. I really am wiped out.

We also visited Google — I added zero to that meeting but it was nice to see their offices in NYC as well.

Thursday evening we had a bit of a gathering of both teams at a cool little science communication events space called Caveat where amongst other conversations we got to meet Ben, the founder of Story Collider — a podcast that many, many of my former colleagues seem to be fans of.

I stayed an extra evening that my colleagues (good luck getting me on a plan on Friday 13th!) and spent Saturday morning walking around Alphabet City and Bushwick taking pics of graffiti. Many, many pics. I also fell off the wagon and got a bit dunk Friday evening — I’d been dry a couple of months but really needed to shut my brain down.


No #weightnotes or #no-life this week — we will resume regularly programming next week — where I will likely be writing in an airport in Belfast!

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