Last weekend I had the opportunity to be part of a small group of tech bloggers invited to attend several Windows 7 launch events in New York and Washington DC. I wasn’t totally clear on exactly what we would be doing on this trip before going, but I figured no matter what, it would be fun and the food would be good. I was right…
Tripit is my Friend
Travel is almost always an adventure when flying out of San Angelo Regional Airport, and this time was no exception. My 9:05 a.m. flight was delayed, but at least I found out about it a full five minutes before it was announced (and was braced for it when everyone else heard and started freaking); I knew because I had received a text message from Tripit.
Not only did Tripit tell me about the delay, it also kept me updated regarding my DFW connection details and the extremely limited amount of time I would have to make my next flight. 21 minutes is really a short amount of time to get from one terminal to another, but I made it. I also had time during the tram ride to email Wayne and Dan, already in New York City attending the live Engadget Show taping, to grouse that although I might make it there on time, my checked bag probably wouldn’t.
Side note about Tripit: The way Tripit works is that I just forward my flight and hotel confirmation emails to a special email address, and the program creates a web-based itinerary which tracks my flights, hotels, meetings, etc.. Tripit creates an .ics file that I can import into my Google Calendar, and there is also an iPhone application. There is a free version of Tripit available for people who don’t need the flight delay alerts or alternate flight info, but after this trip, I can say that I definitely think the differences between the Free and Pro versions are worth the price.
After landing in Newark, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my luggage had also arrived with me. Good job, American!
I got an email from Dan telling me that he and Wayne would be at the hotel before I was; sure enough, once I arrived they were there waiting.
Meeting up with Wayne and Dan at the Chelsea Doubletree
Meeting people that you talk to nearly every single day is always neat, but there is always that pre-meetup awkwardness of “will we get along?” and “will they think I’m a dork?” I needn’t have worried, as we got along just fine, and I confirmed any doubts they might have had about how big of a dork I am. The first thing Wayne said when I showed up was that I should have gone to the Engadget taping, because they had given away Zune HDs, and he and Dan each had received one. Wayne reached into his pocket and pulled out a Zune HD (the one he had purchased on the first day they were released, no less), and tried to tell me that it was the one he had just been given. Dan tried to say that he had already given his away (or some other such nonsense), but I smoked them out pretty quickly. Tricksters!
While we visited in the lobby, I got reacquainted with John Obeto, , Michael Reyes (who I didn’t recognize – even though we are Facebook friends and we’ve met once before, and who will probably never forgive me), and Steven (FYI Guy) Hughes. Dan, Wayne and I had planned on having dinner together, and Steven came along. We took a brisk walk down to the Times Square area, met Dan’s wife Elana at Carmine‘s – passed on dining there because of the hour and a half wait, and then went for sushi at , instead. YUM.
One thing that I thought was cool was being able to sit at a table of friends without feeling guilty that I had my phone on the table and that I was texting; most of us were! Yeah, I know…anyone else might think it rude. To me it felt comfortable.
While eating dinner, I showed Dan Foursquare, a mobile application that I’d started using to document places I visit on the trip. It imports my Facebook and Twitter friends, so I can easily find people I know nearby when I am in a particular city. It also allows me to register when I visit a location; people who visit locations the most often are crowned “Mayor”, and sometimes Mayors get discounts. Using Foursquare is more for fun than anything else, but I figured it would be handy on the trip – especially since it shoots your location (along with who you are with) directly to Twitter.
I hated to cut things short, but Steve and I needed to be back in the hotel lobby by 10:30. It was almost 10, and I was still wearing the rumply jeans and black turtleneck from my flight…
Needless to say, we had to get back to the hotel quickly, and walking wasn’t going to cut it.
The Craziest Cab Ride EVER
Steve and I saw a bicycle-rickshaw (ricksycle? bicshaw?), and decided to try something different. Talk about a thrill-ride! The “cab” driver went the wrong way through traffic, observed no signs or lights, drove up on the curb, wove in and out of traffic going several directions, honestly scared the crap out of us several times, and then tried to charge us $20 for the privilege. I think Steve gave him $5.
Windows 7 / HP Party at the Marquee Club in Chelsea
After freshening up quickly, we all met in the lobby to go to the Marquee Club for a Windows 7 / HP launch party.The club was pretty much like any other – a velvet rope, a huge bouncer keeping people out if they didn’t “look right”, and a lady frantically searching a list to make sure that the people in front of her were really on it; we were.
Once we were in the club, we were sent directly to the upstairs VIP room.
The DJ was using an HP Envy to mix his music…
HP and Windows 7 definitely had a presence…
Even the drink menu listed drinks with both an HP and a Microsoft feel. I tried the HPnotic, which looked good on paper but tasted like anise, or rather – licorice – presumably from the absinthe. I traded my drink with Andru Edwards for his Hard Driver – a much tamer rum and orange juice.
Downstairs, the club was packed, and the music was thumping…
Upstairs we were enjoying the elbow room; not that it was any quieter, though. Around 12:30 a. m., Steven, Andru, Helena Stone, Ali Heriyonto, and I decided that we’d had enough. Helena and Ali, who both live in NY headed home. Andru, Steven and I went in search of authentic New York pizza! Yum … we found it at Amadeus Pizza.
After indulging, we headed back to the Doubletree. I think I was in bed by 3 a. m. that night.
Friday was our first official day of the Windows 7 Tour. Although I knew that the assembled bloggers weren’t there to wear Windows 7 sandwich boards, parading up and down the sidewalk (as Wayne and Dan had teased me the night before), I don’t think any of us really had a clue what exactly we would be doing, other than making the rounds of various stores and giving some things away. Which is exactly what we did.
I’m happy to say that the closest we came to wearing sandwich boards was that we were given nifty Windows 7 & HP jackets with our sites embroidered on their backs.
Now that’s a jacket I would be happy to wear any time.
Nick, Amisha, me, Helena, Xavier & Hector
photo credit: Terri
We decided that each blogger would give a copy of Windows 7 Ultimate away – either at the store or later through our blogs or Twitter accounts, and we would also do a joint giveaway for a 13″ HP Envy – where we each selected one person randomly, who would then be entered into a pot drawn from randomly. I posted the various locations where we would be on Twitter before and as we got to each, and I was happily surprised when former Gear Diary writer Allen Hong showed up – not just at one location, but at two of them.
Steven Hughes even picked him as his Windows 7 winner.
Going to the different stores was a ton of fun; we got to play Santa early, giving out Windows 7 prizes, and watching as people won laptops, printers, and other goodies.
All in all, it was not a bad days “work”!
One thing that I was happy to see was that Windows 7 will be available in family packs; now there is an idea whose time has come!
We hit three stores, spending a couple of hours at each, by which time breakfast was a long distant memory. We were hungry, and the guys decided pizza was in order. I can never turn down pizza, so I was game …little did I know what I was in store for as we pulled up at Koronet Pizza.
The Largest Pizza I have Ever Attempted to Eat
I knew when we ambled up to the counter and I saw the pies that we were in for a gastro-event, but oh man…
My slice of pepperoni and mushroom looked like it was as long as my forearm and hand put together. The grease on it alone was enough to scare me…
…but I put on my game face…
…and I put a hurting on it.
Okay, not really… it was more like the pizza put a hurting on me. By the time we got back in the limo, my stomach had started to ache.
I sat it out while the other bloggers visited the next store, and after that we returned to the hotel. We were told we had a couple hours to rest before meeting up for dinner, at which point I decided that the last thing I wanted to do was stay up late again and eat another bite of anything; I opted to stay in for the evening, get some work done, and catch up on some much needed sleep. I was in bed by 10:30.
The next morning we were supposed to meet in the lobby and leave for Washington DC by 8, so we could get there by 1 p.m.. I was there a little before then, and for the longest I was the only one there! Unsurprisingly, my compadres had returned late the night before, and they were paying for it that morning. When Nick White joined me, he said I was smart for staying in. Since I was well-rested and his story of getting rained on at the restaurant the night before didn’t sound like fun, I couldn’t help but agree.
Limo Ride to Washington DC
Today’s limo ride was in an extended Ford Expedition – it was so much roomier than the Infiniti limo we had been in the day before. After chatting with the others for a little bit, we all began to nod off…one by one. I think that Hector snapped a picture of Amisha and me sleeping. Hopefully that one will never be posted.
As we got closer to DC, I was tweeting where we were heading; DWJ from The Art of Accessories, who I had met in January for the Vivienne Tam event, tweeted that she could come meet us. Once we arrived, we had a mini-reunion, since most of us knew each other from January.
Amisha, Xavier, Nick, DWJ, & Hector
Now it was time to go inside and meet Eric “Sleepy” Floyd, a retired NBA basketball star from the area; DWJ and I decided that he smelled really good.
Nick suggested that we get some DVDs to watch on the way home, and he said he was buying. Terri and Amisha started joking about getting some of the chick-flicks, and making the guys suffer through them. Then I had an idea – I would buy the first season of Battlestar Galactica; I had never seen it, and both Amisha and Helena had done nothing on the entire trip but tell me how much I needed to start watching. We had an almost five hour drive home, which meant we could polish off the TV mini-series (roughly four hours) and the first episode of the first season. Perhaps because he was grateful that he wouldn’t have to watch a chick-flick, Nick paid for my DVD.
After hanging out for a while, meeting people and talking to some of the patrons there, we headed over to Don Pablos to eat. It was close… we decided to walk … and as we did, the light mist turned into pouring rain. Amisha and I looked like drowned rats by the time we got into the restaurant – DWJ had brought an umbrella, smart woman that she is.
Oh my…even though the limos three viewing screens were 10″ or smaller, we all were completely sucked into the miniseries. As I tweeted about the show, catching kudos from Clinton for finally watching and ribbing from Joel and Jason for taking so long to finally do it. I texted Kevin to tell him that I had it, and when I got home we would have to start watching. As a side note, we are now almost through the first season, and I need to purchase the next! I think it is safe to say that we are both hooked; the storyline is great!
Once we got back to New York City, Amisha and I decided that tonight we were going to finally make one of her trip goals come true…
The Brick Lane Curry House
Have you seen the Man Vs. Food Episode where Adam Richman eats the World’s hottest curry at the Brick Lane Curry House? Don’t feel bad if you haven’t, because I hadn’t either. If I had seen it, I might not have agreed to what came next. Just for fun, let’s watch now…
Amisha, Xavier, and Andru had seen this episode, and Amisha was determined that she was going to try phaal. I was intrigued; after all, I live in Texas and I eat jalepeño and habernero peppers in my food all the time – so how hot could any peppered curry possibly be? I told Amisha that I would do it with her, and when it was dinner time – we were ready!
An excruciatingly hot curry, more pain and sweat than flavor. For our customers who do this on a dare, we will require you to state a verbal disclaimer not holding us liable for any physical or emotional damage after eating this curry.
When Amisha and I first started on the phaal, we were deceived, because it didn’t seem all that spicy.
Before beginning, Amisha and I figured that the best way to get through the phaal was to just eat it – as quickly as possible with some rice or naan to accompany it – and hopefully kill the heat. A tip for those who may try to do the same: stay away from the rice, and use lots of either plain or sesame seed naan. The curry wasn’t deadly, and it was actually pretty tasty (we had it with chicken), but make no mistake about it – we could feel a bit of heat!
Andru thought the waiter had brought us some easy to swallow curry, and that it wasn’t too hot. We told him to try some, and thinking it couldn’t possibly be so bad if we were doing it – he obliged.
Holy cow…after a little while the heat began to settle in, and we had to acknowledge it!!!
And at the end…payoff! We not only ate the phaal, we got our names on the certificate, and we were given cards to email our pictures and names to their webmaster so we could be included on their “P’hall of Fame”.
Note the sheen of sweat on Amisha’s and my foreheads. That’s Samir, our fabulous waiter holding our certificate.
As I was writing this post, I checked the Brick lane Curry House’s P’hall of Fame…yep! There I am!
After we had finished, Amisha’s and my mouths were on fire; we figured the best thing would be some ice cream. Philip Berne had told me via a tweet that we were in his old neighborhood, and we should try Chickalicious. I had no idea what he was talking about, but Amisha said it was great and we should go. So we started walking…and walking…and the entire time, Amisha and I kept looking at each other like we were wondering who was going to breathe fire first.
Unfortunately, it was now just after midnight, and Chicalicious was closed. That led to us wandering around like a band of lost souls, looking for a store that was still open selling gelato, frozen yogurt, ice cream…or something. We had no luck finding something cool; we did find lots of pretty flowers, though.
As we wandered through the Village, we decided that other than bars, nothing much was open so we wound up getting Dove bars at a bodega; they still hit the spot. Another late night, but it was easily one of the most fun!
We got to sleep in! It was awesome!
Today we had only one stop on our list, and i didn’t really think anything was going to be that special about it… at first. But I digress.
Have you ever used pricegrabber.com to search for the lowest price on a piece of electronics? That’s the service I usually use, and it often seems like the vendor that will win out is B&H Photo; in fact I have purchased from them several times in the past. Generally when it happens, I go straight from Pricegrabber to the item on the B&H site, check out, and I am done. I have never truly perused the B&H site, and I had no idea that B&H wasn’t just a warehouse in some sleepy town, serviced by FedEx. Finding out that it was not only a brick and mortar store, but it was also the ultimate photography destination in New York City was truly a drool-inducing eye opener.
From the moment we walked in, I knew this wasn’t a New York version of Best Buy. There were electronic gadgets everywhere, and I didn’t know where to look first! As we walked in, I saw a large raised center area where people were checking out. This insane conveyor belt was dropping off their purchases, presumably from the counters where they had been selected.
And over to the side… it was like angels had begun to sing. Every kind of photography doo-dad I had ever imagined, every kind of accessory, everything I could even imagine ever wanting… right there under one roof. But I didn’t have time to linger; we were expected upstairs.
As we arrived on the second floor, a security woman appeared at this podium and told us “no photos!”. Sorry, too late.
We were just in time to witness more give-aways – another $400 printer!
The next part of our B&H visit was one of the neatest. We were herded into a smallish office where we were introduced to Eli Daskal, B&H’s Store Director. What a personable and genuinely nice guy! Not only did he give us an impromptu discussion about how B&H is different than any other shopping experience, he gave us a personal tour of some of the store’s sections. Eli didn’t want us to take photos of him, but he didn’t mind us taking notes.
As he talked, I was furiously tapping out nuggets he said on my iPhone, things like “we build customers, not sales,” “B&H doesn’t do many sales, we always offer good prices,” (I concur) “B&H is salary based, not commission based – we keep our customers (and salespeople) because we take care of them,” “B&H has between 60-75000 items in stock at all times, 1500 employees, and 30 – 30% of their sales are in-store; the rest are on the web.” From what I gathered, B&H is all about getting and retaining the customer: they offer the best price they possibly can, and they are trying to attract customers for life – not for a single sale. They take care of each patron the same, whether they are purchasing that day or not, and because the salespeople are not working on commission, there is no temptation to hard-sell. He told us about a girl whose father gave her $10,000 to purchase all of the photographic equipment she would need for her classes; she left B&H after having only spent $5,000; she and her father are now customers for life.
One of the most interesting things that Eli told us was that if you went to shop in a particular section of the store, the person working behind the counter would be someone who actually knew what they were talking about. For instance, in the camera department they only hired photographers and people with photography experience – not kids killing time with after-school jobs. In that way, B&H is able to offer helpful suggestions to customers based on real experiences, not based on the price of an item. I would put this statement to the test, later.
After showing us the room that B&H uses to give free classes and talks to aspiring photographers and other electronic hobbyists, Eli led us downstairs to see something really special – the high end camera room – the Studio Showroom. This is where I was introduced to Steve Manella (Broadcast Systems Sales Engineer) and Michel Suissa (Post-Production Sales Engineer), and the $65,000 RED camera. Oh my.
I asked Steve and Michel what they did – since I knew they weren’t “just salesmen.” Exactly as Eli had said, each had extensive background in film-making, directing, and other areas directly related to movie making; perfect knowledge for a couple of guys selling high end movie cameras, and at least one $50,000 editing software title. Eli overheard me talking to the guys about their extra-curricular activities, so he came back over just to tease me for checking up on him.
Really nice guy, that Eli.
Side note: When I got home, I decided to put Pricegrabber to the test once again for my Canon G11 purchase. It was absolutely no surprise that once again B&H came up as the lowest, but I think that even if they had been a couple of dollars more I would have purchased from them anyway. Needless to say, they got my money for both the G11 and a Canon 270 EX flash, and after meeting and liking their staff – they have another customer for life.
After leaving B&H, we decided to head to Chinatown for a late lunch and then some looking around. We weren’t sure where to go to eat, but our limo driver said we couldn’t go wrong with Wo Hop. OK, then …
Wo Hop #17
This looks like the entrance to a total dive, doesn’t it? There were about four people ahead of us, but as soon as we were in line there were people standing all the way to the top of the stairs. We had to wait about 45 minutes, but I have no idea how long they had to wait.
After they had a table cleared for six, we finally entered a dining room the size of…the average home’s dining room. It was cramped – and this picture doesn’t even begin to show how tightly packed it was.
But the food was absolutely fabulous…and once again, we had ordered and eaten way too much.
I had the Singapore Curry Noodles with chicken; I sure wish I could have brought my leftovers home. Looking at this picture now, I can almost taste them. YUM.
After eating we went wondering through Chinatown – which is always an adventure in and of itself.
We wandered in and out of stores, purchased scarves from street carts…
How did this even happen? We were suddenly in Little Italy, and seated at Caffe Roma. Andru was deadset on changing the fact that I have never eaten a cannolo. Caffe Roma had much more than just connoli on the menu, however…
Nick had a gelato and latte. That’s the scarf he bought for his wife around his neck, by the way; he’s stylish, but not that stylish.
We thought it would be funny to put all of our desserts in front of Nick; he threatened to take a bite of each, but didn’t follow through.
I took a couple bites of my dessert; no it’s not a connolo, but it is the same sweet marscapone cheese based center – it was very rich and very filling. I suspect that I will need to do 40 miles on my bike to make up for this food tour …seriously.
After our desserts, we went walking some more. Amisha, Terri and I hit some little boutiques, and then we called it a night.
Before I left the hotel to catch my flight out of Newark, however short-lived it may be, I was very pleased to see this …