Smelly socks in the New World
April 30, 2001
Dear [50 names],
First surprise: I arrived. I was really sure my plane was going to crash, but somehow it didn't. I have a rather bad case of flying fear, but this time it was particularly bad. I hoped I would sit next to a good-looking young blonde with voluptuous curves, but it turned out to be a not-so-good-looking very young, dark haired, somewhat square-ish boy. Tough luck; it would have made my journey so much easier. The flights were uneventful.
This is also the theme that most suitably describes my first week here. The morning after I arrived I was biking my way to Star market already. It felt like I just, somehow, made a freaky time-warp to the past; as if the past 8 months had never happened. I have simply been here all the time. My bicycle needed some air, three lights (I finally bought them, Mama!), and a bell. Riding a bike on the streets of this country is proof for a serious death wish, by the way. (I had this wild idea: I am going to fix a Webcam---a small video camera---to my helmet, connect it to my laptop in my backpack, record some bike trips, and send the resulting, funky videos to you. Coming up!)
In my house there is, of course, Dan the cat who molested my old laptop (in fact, my father's old laptop) by pissing on it. Some of you know that I recently murdered my own laptop (in fact, MIT's laptop) in a similar fashion, although I used half a glass of plain water to get the job done. More on laptops and urine later.
In contrast to earlier statements, my old address and telephone number in Amsterdam are no longer mine. Don't send your love letters there. They'll be utilized for rather unhygienic purposes by an evil creature that haunts my former realm.
My room here did not get any bigger over the past 8 months. I made it cozy, if not straight out gezellig. I hooked up my portable CD player to a small speaker set that I still had from my adventure last year, so I have music. When I am (or feel) alone, it is very comforting to listen to music. It makes me feel at home wherever I am. This is also due to the vast amount of personal property that I shipped from Amsterdam. 5 out of 7 boxes with stuff that I shipped have arrived so far. My room is getting very full, but I am used to a small, full room.
Oh yes, something did change. My Star card (Bonuskaart for those speaking the Albert Heijn protocol) did not work anymore! I was shocked and insulted. I saved it all this time and shipped it twice over the Atlantic only to discover that it has been replaced by some stupid orange card.
Here's a good one: I have no money on my US bank account, but I do have a check that someone wrote to me. I went to the bank with that check to cash it. Guess what? Turns out they won't cash a check if you do not have enough money on your account. (You need to have at least the amount of money that you are trying to cash from someone else.) I asked 3 times if I understood this correctly, and I'm afraid I did. Does not compute. This is what we call a "deadlock" in computer science. I suddenly understood why there are so many homeless people on the street. They must have all these checks, but no money to cover them. Hey, this is America!
Of course, there is Mazu Networks, Inc. For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past couple of months: Mazu is the company that I work for here. Their main business is to protect customers from attacks against their (Web) servers. This should ring a bell. The Mazu work-floor is one big space without cubicles. (I'll make some photos, soon.) The desks are grouped in clusters of 4 or 6 desks facing each other. Groups are divided based on functionality: there are two clusters of core developers, one cluster of user interface developers, a cluster of administrative people, a group of managers, and one marketing cluster. I like it a lot. I walk on my socks. Unlike some members (or rather, a member) of my family, they don't complain about that, or maybe they are too embarrassed to tell me that my feet stink. (They do.)
I got a desk opposite to an Arab looking guy that, I guessed, was either from Iran or Iraq. A good start for a fertile discussion, I thought to myself. Turns out that the Arab looking Iraqi is in fact Israeli. I'm the 3rd Israeli, if you can call me that, in the company that, by the way, consists of 27 people in total, 5 of which are female, I believe. So much for heavily punctuated, malformed sentences. So much for random remarks about punctuation. Must sleep.
Some other good news is that Mazu gave me a new computer for Dan to pee in! My new toy is an IBM ThinkPad T21 laptop with a Pentium III, 800Mhz processor, 128MB memory, 20GB hard disk, DVD player, built-in network interface, a wireless, yes wireless!, network card, sound-card, modem, and hot-swappable floppy drive. I've never had so much processing power on my lap. It rocks, dude. Unfortunately, it is neither water-, nor urine resistant.
By now I've established a daily rhythm that is, roughly, as follows. I wake up between 7:30am and 8am, get up, take a shower, get dressed, eat breakfast while watching last night's NOS Journaal or Nova via the Internet. (I decided to stay in touch with Dutch issues a little bit.) Then I bike to Porter Square, buy some fresh fruit and bagels at Star market, bike to Davis square, follow the so-called Minute Man Trail (a bike/walk path) to Mazu, which is at the other end of Cambridge. Then I work the whole day while I listen to music on CD's, and Dutch radio (or BBC World Service) via the Internet. Around 7pm I go home, make myself (or order) a meal, talk on the phone, and go to sleep. Loop this over and over again, and you have an idea what the coming few weeks will look like.
I've noticed that I become very aware of food here, in the sense that I get extremely cautious with what I eat. I tend to take "light" versions of soft drinks, cream cheese, etc. If you eat and drink the default food here, you'll end up fat. I think I heard that more than 60% percent of Americans are, at one point in their life, obese. I'm also very aware of recycling and pollution; this is also due to Max who is obsessed with the issue. I know I said this before, but I am amazed with the amount of plastic bags and paper bags that people use (only once!) to transport their groceries in. Must recycle.
Some of you know that my dear friend Ellen is here, too. Ellen arrived (from Amsterdam) one day before me. She is doing a research project at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute for 4 months and she lives in a very, very nice apartment in downtown Boston. We have been hanging out together a lot. It makes the transition significantly easier for both of us.
I conclude by saying that---as you must have noticed---I have not much to tell. I very much feel at home and happy so far. I don't think I will have lots of spectacular stories the coming few months since I expect to sit at Mazu 5 or 6 days per week, 10 to 14 hours per day. This is not a complaint; I'm very happy to be working very hard---American style---again. I do what I love and I love what I do.