— Nina Mehta

Here’s a late night city bright in color, rich in food, gritty about art, with music that goes on for for days and days. It looks like a mishmash of Lisbon, Berlin and Paris but costs like Milwaukee.

I went to Argentina for a wedding in Rosario and stayed in Buenos Aires for another week and a half. I couldn’t think of too many friends who had been to Argentina, but when I asked Facebook for tips, essays of recommendations came in. I loved it there and it seems like other people do too.

So, why doesn’t this city doesn’t get more praise? Well anyway, here’s mine.

But first, some quick business talk.

Bring Cash

Some Argentines save their money in US Dollars instead of Pesos because it’s a more stable currency. So it’s understood American travelers will trade their currency on the illegal but tolerated exchange rate of 13:1 instead of the official rate of 8:1. My Airbnb host helped me out with this but I kid you not my friend traded his dollars for pesos at the Blue Dolar rate at a Western Union. The point being, you’ll be able to find someone. This does mean you’ll have a lot of cash with you, so make sure where you’re staying has safe to lock up your money.


The Graffitimundo Street Art Tour is my only must-do event in all of Buenos Aires. Sign up for the Palermo (North) tour on your first day in the city. You won’t know what to do yet anyway, so just do this. It’s the perfect introduction to the social-political context of BsAs, the tour is in English, it funds artists, and will change how you see the city during the rest of your visit. I loved it so much I later signed up for the South tour of the murals, plus you get to go to the ‘hood. If you can, get a tour with Ana.

If you do go on the South Tour or visit La Boca, give yourself 30 minutes to visit the hipster Proa museum beforehand. Their website says they’re closed on Monday but it was open the Monday I went. It’s lovely and seems like the only other thing worth doing out there.

I tried to go to Banchero Pizza for lunch but it actually was closed. So I got an overpriced pizza on the colorful street and watched some tango dancers. It was really touristy and pretty cute.

But if you’re hungry for an art museum, the MALBA curators have their act together. It has great light, good flow and left me feeling floaty and spacey when I left. There’s a Frida Kahlo there and lots of experimental pieces. Save some time for the museum store, the Blue Dolar exchange rate made this a great place for gifts.

The Recoleta cemetery is fantastic. It would be a shame to come all the way to Buenos Aires and not stroll through here. It’s not too far from the Evita Museum which is quality and surprisingly huge. It’s worth visiting if you’re in the neighborhood but I wouldn’t recommend making the trip for it specifically. She had great high heels.

And speaking of high heels, bring them for a tango class at La Catedral, an old flour factory. Tuesdays are a great night to just watch people dancing and classes seem to run most nights. My friends said the times of the classes on the website are not reliable, so I recommend contacting them or asking in person. It’s foreigner and tourist friendly without being gimmicky. That being said, the sidewalks are uneven which might explain why I only saw women in flats for platforms. Leave your stilletos at home.

Closed Door Restaurants

There are endless Closed Door (puerta cerrada) restaurants in Buenos Aires. They’re private, underground, multi-course meals out of peoples’ homes. They’re fantastic fine-dining experiences that cost $40-60 USD. Make your dinner reservations weeks in advance.

  1. Adentro  – This was by far the best overall experience. This was a group dinner of travelers and the hosts. We got to spend time on their roof, parilla patio (pictured above) and all had dinner together in their dining room. This felt most like a dinner party with old friends. The food was great and the company was better. This is my top recommendation.
  2. Ocho Once – The food at Ocho Once was Michelin star quality. However, they were ready to trade out my plates faster than I could eat and each dinner group was seated separately, restaurant style. The food was so good I was able to overlook the snobbiness and fast plates.
  3. Cocina Sunae – Their specialty is Thai food and I even saw a writeup about this location in Harpers Bazaar Argentina. What they did better than anyone else was presentation. Though it was nice to have spicy food and Thai flavors, I left dinner longing for hole-in-the-wall noodles in San Francisco. Skippable.


Here’s what I everyone told me and also what I learned. Don’t wing it on restaurants if you want a great meal and go for dinner around 10:00pm. There’s lots of mediocre stuff out there. I also learned I must not like steak because I couldn’t get into the cuts at Don Julio, Ming and a few other places. Go figure. The chorizo was spicier and more satisfying if you find yourself in the same boat as me. Here are some good less obvious restaurants for when you’re tired of fancy animal-slab restaurants:

  • Find a fried empanada. None of that baked stuff!
  • Artemsia (Palermo Hollywood) – delicious, comfortable, reliable vegetarian restaurant with rich meals that have more than salads and won’t leave you missing meat.
  • Burger Joint (Palermo Soho) – I always want a hamburger on my last day of travel. This place has good, greasy American-style burgers, french fries and a Justin-Beiber-Bashing Tip Jar. The food is legitimately good so you don’t have to feel like a sellout if you eat here.
  • Fukuron Noodle Bar (Palermo Hollywood)- This place was sadly closed they day I wanted to visit. But I heard the ramen is legit and the place has a good street-vibe.
  • Campo dei Fiori – My Chilean friend told me this place has the best pasta in Buenos Aires.  This place also wasn’t open when I tried to go there due to a long holiday weekend, so I don’t know. I did a foursquare search of the entire city for pasta and ended up at Piegari Ristorante in Recoleta. It’s very close to a few bars you must visit.

Cocktail Bars

I’m sure there are hundreds of lovely places to have drinks in Buenos Aires. I’m only going to recommend two, both are in Recoleta. The first is Floreria Atlantico, which, as you can tell, is also a flower shop. It smells as beautiful as it looks. We did a quick tour through the shop and basement bar but didn’t have the patience to wait for a seat. It’s worth going just for the sights and smell. There are flowers in the cocktails. Sweet.

We moved onto Milión just a few blocks away, a Mansion turned restaurant and bar. It’s run by a group of artists showcasing  several beautiful of the contemporary pieces by local professional artists. It’s worth coming here to lay on the marble steps and sip a cocktail while housey-disco wafts through the corridors.

Twist my arm, if you really want a third recommendation, Victoria Brown in Palermo has tasty prohibition style cocktails, good house music and a soft steam-punk aesthetic. But not in that Burning Man kind of way.


I did half a day of shopping in San Telmo. I started at Plaza Dorrego and walked down Defensa aiming for Plop that carries cool, creative, urban, well-priced items. I got a long-sleeved black dress with an asymmetrical zipper across the neck and the body hand painted by a local artists and a hand-made lambswool cape. There are a few other good shops nearby. You might have better luck than I did in Palermo Soho or Plaza Serrano. Several blogs pointed me to Villa Crispo for leather goods. I went to almost every shop there and found most of the stores to be too expensive and mostly just selling jackets, don’t bother if you want a broad exploration.



Peace and Quiet

The California kid in me just wanted to have a quiet nap in a park. The Botanical Garden and the Japanese Garden both had the actual lawn areas roped off with plenty of benches for sitting. Oddly enough the day I went to the Japanese Garden happened to be Manga Day, so it was flooded with Argentines dressed like Japanese characters (above). But I imagine the garden otherwise is a peaceful quite place.

If you’re looking to stretch it out after the long flight, take a class with Agustina Villar at The Urban Lotus yoga studio in Palermo. Agustina lived and practiced in San Francisco for 7 years. At home in Buenos Aires, she teaches a beginner-moderate Forrest style class in the small studio, gives a lot of attention, and is a fluent English speaker. She’ll translate the Perrito Abajo (downward dog) but it helps if you speak Spanish depending on who else is in the class.

I don’t usually do spa days on vacation but I had a refreshing change of pace at the Home Spa in Palermo Hollywood. I had a deep tissue massage, a light salad for lunch, a bottle of crisp white Torrontes wine. It was the perfect way to cool down by the pool on a hot day.

House & Techno

This is the friendliest group of party people I’ve ever met. One appeal to techno-tourism is knowing you have friends and family everywhere. But people at these bars and clubs were exceptionally friendly and initiated conversations all night. Even the candy-poppin-late-night-clubbers were extremely polite and endearlingly offended when I didn’t say perdón or excuse myself while moving through the big crowds.

The picture above is during tINI’s set at Crobar which is just a big ‘ol club. There was never a line for the women’s bathroom, and the outside patio was lovely, and sometimes trains still pass by over the old train station. If I lived in here, I’d probably claim to never go to Crobar. Then some DJ worth seeing would come to town, I’d buy a ticket, whine about the big crowd then at 5am the music would get weird, people would go home, and I’d happily get my dance on.

Which brings me to the late night schedule. We napped until 2:30, got to the club around 3, the music got pretty good around 4 and there was space to dance around 5. It wasn’t hard to find the after-hours party at C’est Club in Palermo which was worth visiting for the sake of techno-tourism. If you’ve ever been to an afters before, anywhere in the world, it was exactly like that.

The Resident Advisor for Buenos Aires is not very good. A friend of mine said to visit the clubs’ Facebook pages and look for related and recommended events.

There’s a good an outdoor/indoor cocktail bar in Chinatown called Puerto Uno. The DJ was spinning some cozy housey tunes from a few years ago. Start but don’t end your night here. Look for the big black doorbell otherwise you’ll have trouble letting the doorman know you want to get inside.

I went also to a loungey dance bar Levitar a couple of times to hear some local DJs. This spot was closer to home and open later than Puerto Uno. It was like a mix of 222 Hyde and 111 Minna. It’s not quite a destination spot, but a good techno hangout in Palermo if you want to hear some music late without committing to a bold night out.

I’m told it’s also worth seeing who’s playing at Bahrein, Cocoliche, Pacha (yeah, I know).

Other little tips

  • Mexican or European style Spanish will get you most of the way there. The “double-L” makes a juh sound. In Mexico calle is pronounced cai-yay but in Argentina you’ll hear it as cai-jhay. The “Y” like Yo would be pronounced something like Jyho.
  • Streets are well marked and cab drivers generally know where to go. It helps to ask in Spanish. That being said, be safe and night and take a cab, especially if you’re alone. Buenos Aires is not known for being a safe city.
  • When sitting at a restaurant, keep your bag on your body instead of on the chair next to you.
  • Hipsters everywhere in the world are the same. There ya have it.
  • There’s wifi almost everywhere, just ask for the password. Or hold up your phone with a smile and say “Wifi?”
  • Locals don’t seem to mind, nay, they seemed to like people from the United States

Shoutout for Rosario

I imagine Rosario is a lovely place to live up but not really a city for vacationing.

If you do find yourself in Rosario, here are a few things I recommend:

Hookipa – If you can somehow get to the Yacht Club and hire a boat to take you across the river, you’ll find paradise. There’s a short patch of sand, bronze Argentines, and a treehouse serving beach tunes and Big Gulp sized caipirinhas. The water’s brown, but it’s not dirty. And this is a local’s spot, so play nice.

Los Jardines – a lovely waterfront dinner restaurant and bar on the water that is open late with nice lighting and comfortable seats. If you’ve been eating meat for days, have the salad with pumpkin and quinoa. They accommodate large groups well, too.

Complejo Davis – Come here for the nice sit by the river, skip the art museum. I didn’t meet one local who had ever been to this art museum, we went anyway. It was nearly empty. Save your time, they truly had to turn on the lights and elevator for us.

Oh and finally

Adios is an antiquated farewell. The locals say ciao.

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Last week I ran a user research session that went sour and felt unsafe. I almost never recruit from Craigslist and now I remember why.

The Craigslist Creeper
My team and I sat by the elevator doors waiting for our participant sourced from Craigslist to show up. Let’s call him James. When James finally arrived we moved to a conference room to begin the session. Also in the room was my research wingman, a developer on the project. The rest of our team was in another room watching the session via Google Hangout.

James and I chatted for awhile about what he uses his three different cellphones for. One a free “Obama phone” the other he shares with his girlfriend and the third an Android. It didn’t really add up. We moved on. I showed him photos our team is considering using for an iPhone welcome screen. I laid out flashcards with different emotional words printed on them. I asked him to pickup the cards that described how he felt about the photos.

Out of nowhere, Craigslist James told my wingman I was sexy. I froze. Did he really just say that outloud? James nearly apologized by saying “I shouldn’t talk about you like you’re not in the room.” I collected myself and reminded him I was in the room. We continued the session with my Spidey Sense on alert. Looking back we should have ended the session right then.

James got weird said the photos reminded him of suicide, murder, rape, gloomy, death, etc. He also kept talking about being sleepy and I eventually figured out he was probably also high. James then locked eyes with my chest and low-hanging jewelry and said he liked my necklace. By then, everyone was independently racing to figure out how to end the session.

At that point a teammate from the observer room texted us to with a fake story about a fake meeting. Time for my Craigslsit Creeper to go home. While walking James out of the office he insisted several times I should call him if I needed anything at all. No thank you.

… continue reading on Medium

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People. Regular ol’ people, all around the world, actually, more than 5 million people, are actually interested in journalism.

Well, Serial to be specific.

No podcast has ever reached that many downloads from iTunes so fast according to Apple. It’s even harder to ignore the podcast considering the 17k Soundcloud listeners Soundcloud and 37k Reddit subscribers.

When newspapers, television, and radio’s old business model didn’t fit the new world, it was easy to blame the selfie generation. It seemed like all kids wanted was sugary-sweet linkbait without any leafy green news.

Continue reading on Medium

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It’s not very hip to care about your birthday.

It’s even less cool to want presents.
But it’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.

Instead of taking my year down in flames, I practiced twenty days of self love and self care leading up to tomorrow, my birthday. I bought myself meaningful gifts and focused on a better diet, sleep, exercise, and relationships during my one-woman party.

I experimented with my lifestyle by doing several intensely positive activities to help me see where my happiness comes from. Here’s to more of the good stuff next year!

… continue reading on Medium

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The second coming of  techie invaders in San Francisco is a story decades old. A milestone in this saga was the Google Bus fiasco symbolizing new money pushing out longtime locals and artists. Ten months ago I stitched together quotes from Disney movies that embellish this story.

Thoguh we still have a lot of social and legislative work to do in this city, I hope you’ll just enjoy this fictional startup-kid story for what it is:

Discovering San Francisco

Something is calling you to the West Coast. That one cool friend you kind of know from college insists you visit. So break your bank and book a flight.

Peter Pan: Come on
Wendy: B b but where are we going?
Peter Pan: To Neverland
Wendy: Neverland
Peter Pan: You’ll never grow up there

Falling in Love
One suitcase and a magic carpet ride later you’re here in SF. Your friend shows you a weekend of costume-themed street parties, boutique coffee and endless lounging in Dolores Park.  This city promises another decade of joyful youth you want.

Aladdin & Jasmine: A Whole New World
Aladdin: Don’t you dare close your eyes
Jasmine: A hundred thousand things to see
Aladdin: Hold your breath it gets better
Jasmine: I can’t go back to where I used to be


You move to SF and land a dream job job at a startup that’s going to truly change the world. They buy you a Macbook Air, feed you every day and let you come into work at noon. Does life get any better? Well, maybe kinda yea.

Ariel: I’ve got gadets and gizmos a plenty. I’ve got whosits and whatsits galore.  No big deal. I want more.

Your first company
Time goes on and you’re tired of working on someone else’s dream. You’re being told what to do and how to do and are not sure if the next round of funding is even coming. You could do it better. So you start your own company and become the boss.

Simba: I’m gonna be the main event, like no king was before. No one sayin’ do this.
Zazu: Now when I said that–
Nala: No one sayin’ be there
Simba: Free to do it all my way

You believe the work you’re doing is good but for some reason people you don’t know are angry about it.

Ariel: I don’t see how a world that makes such wonderful things could be bad

And maybe the city actually doesn’t need you or even have space for you.

Alice: Afterall, we haven’t been invited

But, you’ve now spent enough time in San Francisco to learn it hasn’t always been a city of new money hackers.

Pocahontas: You think the only people who are people, are the people who look and think like you.

The Premonition
And some long-time locals throw bricks through bus windows and protest your pure existence in their home.

Gaston: They’ll wreak havoc on our village if we let him wander free. So it’s time to take some action boy!

This is some kind of warning. But you, a kind, thoughtful, sometimes wide-eyed twenty something never meant to hurt anyone is now a target of social politics.

Scar: Even you can’t be caught un aware. A shining new era is tip toeing nearer. And in justice deliciously squared. Be prepared!
Hyena 1: Yeah be prepared.
Hyena 2: yeah we’ll be prepared.
Hyena 3: For what?


At this point rent prices, space for artists and social equilibrium is not yet met in San Francisco. The story is to be continued but you start to realize how small this place is.

It’s a world of laughter and a world of tears
It’s a world of hopes and a world of fears
There’s so much that we share
That is time we’re aware
Its a small world after all

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Four friends independently asked me for travel advice on Tokyo. I’ve only been twice and neither time for tourism, but that meant I was quite picky about what I’d actually do in the free time I had. I was last in Japan for a couple of weeks hosting an art/techno/startup conference and worked in Tokyo for a month in 2011.

I’m by no means an expert on the city. In fact, I find it quite a difficult place for my mind to be. So I’m sure this guide is missing out on some really cool underground hot spots but despite the language and cultural challenges I’ve had there, but still Tokyo is somehow wonderfully marvelous and inspiring. Also check out my friend Tanya’s Facebook page Getting Weird in Tokyo for other good tips in this fine city.

Wifi Everywhere

First thing’s first. Reserve a wifi (mifi) device from Japan Wireless. Keep this little device charged and in your bag for a wifi connection everywhere you go. This is especially important since there is little-to-no rhyme or reason to most of the streets in Japan. You can pick up your reserved device from the Post Office at Narita Airport or have it mailed it to your hotel. Without a doubt get the Wimax 40mbps unlimited connection speed.

The Google Maps team did an excellent job charting out the cities walkways and trains. You have to work pretty hard to get lost, now (though entrances aren’t always where the pin drops). While you’re at it, download the Google Translate app. It will pump out your phrase in Latin characters, Japanese characters and offer voice pronunciation. Life Saver.

Where to stay

Both times I visited I stayed in Shibuya: once near Yoyogi Park the other time near the Womb nightclub. It’s centrally located but also quite loud. I don’t have good advice on better places to stay but my home at the Fantastic Pad Airbnb was as lovely as its pictures look. The hosts, Happy Tokyo, have 12 other listings, mountains of positive reviews, and will comfortably communicate to you in English.


You’re going to go to Shibuya, you just are. It’s hard for me to imagine not needing to go there. I suppose it’s the Times and Union Squares of Tokyo. Shibuya is wonderful for several everything stores including Tokyu Hands, Loft and the Ito-ya Stationary Store in Shibuya Station (and its bigger locale in Ginza). Shibuya is home to several nightclubs I’d actually go to: meaning good people, quality sound system and top notch tunes. I’ve been to Womb (big room) and have had many friends go to smaller spots like Unit, Bar Bonobo (supposedly similar to 222 Hyde) and Oiran.

There’s a hella-lotta ramen in Shibuya. Many spots have a vending machine that spit out a ticket after you’ve paid. Give to the host or person behind the counter and wait for your noodle paradise. If you get a chance, dip into one of the many Afuri Ramen spots that has light, fresh, delicioso noodles. There are also some late-night Ramen shops with little walls on either side fo the bar table so you can find a quite moment among all the noise. There’s also a little forrest nook restaurant called Yoyogi Curry with some pretty stellar curry. Like. Extremely delicious.

Cat Cafes are all over Tokyo. I found to Cat Cafe Hapineko in Shibuya just by keeping my eyes extra-peeled. They’re hosts and cats are used to tourists and the venue has an English menu. The kitties aren’t drugged up but were a little skiddish, which I suppose comes with the territory.

Takeshita Street & Akihabara

These two ‘hoods met the Harujuku expectations I had for the gothic and cutesie (Kawaii) fashion styles. Takeshita Street (close to Shibuya) is much more pink and frilly, whereas Akihabara (close to Asakusa) seems to attract more of the gamer culture. It’s very possible I’m botching up what’s really going on in these places, but it’s what I saw and felt. Visit at least one of these places during your visit.


This little ‘hood has cool, quirky, hipster boutiques at actually reasonable prices. Vogue named it one of coolest neighborhoods in the world when it comes to street style. It was surprisingly unpretentious when I went there. It reminds me of a less gothic, less commercial version of  Camden Town in London. I didn’t find it the easiest place to get a good meal, but Lauren and I shared some nice steak and broccoli snack at Rainbow Kitchen.


This was the most touristy activity I’ve done in Japan. And you know what? It was actually pretty rad because I came home with some nice kitchenwear that I love. You can have a good bowl of noodles and nice stroll. The average age here is a little older than Shibuya which means it comes with some kind of meandering slowness that I appreciate.


Come here for the view from Mori Tower and a visit to the Art Museum. Absolutely worth your time, if nothing for then for the view. In this ‘hood you’ll find lots of ex-pats, businesses and I think the Google offices are here. I think there are some good clubs around here but I’m not sure.

Hiroo (yoga)

I really wanted to keep my yoga practice going while in Japan. I found a nice studio with several classes in English near the Hiroo stop called Be Yoga. It was a nice dip into the comforts of San Francisco and mental calm while in a city that kinda makes my mind spin. I believe there are a few reasonable studios in Shibuya as well.

Honorable mentions

Costume Karaoke at Festa has full clothing racks of costumes,  and endless rooms with multiple screens each with musical instruments to everyone can participate. They also have remotes in both English and Japanese so it’s a great place to meet lots of friends for beers and singing.

Bction is an art group that’s on the pulse of the contemporary, underground art in Japan. Pop over to their site/twitter/instagram and find out what they’re exploring and talking about. Guaranteed to inspire you.

Yoyogi Park is the Dolores/Central Park of Tokyo. It’s walking distance from Shibuya and hosts lots of events and is great for people watching and generally entertaining meandering.

Hot Springs I’m not sure if there are any in Tokyo, but definitely outside of the city. If you can’t make it to a spring, visit an onsen and have a nice soak.

Maid Cafes are a thing to explore. I haven’t done it but if you’re curious, google it and have a looksee.

Ghibli Museum I’ve heard is fantastic, especially if you love Miyazaki films.

Arunjyansu is where I got purple hair extensions during my visit. They were friendly to walk-ins and happy to communicate with me through the Google Translate app. Easily made for the best souvenir I’ve ever had from a vacation. It’s on the second floor across the street and to the left of the Forever 21 in Shibuya if your back is to the Forever 21.

Naoshima is a trek from Tokyo and worth every moment. It’s an island completely dedicated to contemporary art including world renowned architect Tado Ando and several installations by James Turrell and Yayoi Kusama. Naoshima is at the top of my list of special places my favorite people need to visit.

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Burning Man 2014 Live Stream

It’s just not possible to do everything always. That’s one of the first things I learned at Burning Man. This year I took a break from the Playa, I knew it was the right decision because it was not a difficult decision. Remember? I even wanted to leave early last year!

You are always participating

Every year passed, I loved being wished a great burn from long-time playa bunnies who were staying home. It’s such a small thing but it always pulled a strong heart string for me. I loved feeling celebrated and sent off by those who had been before. I felt like a vessel for their spirits out there.

And truly, from little muscle pumping in my chest, I loved sending my friends off to Burning Man this year. I spent some hearty time with a few folks before their departure talking about their week ahead. Some veterans, some virgins. It pained me to not go on bizarre bike rides with them. But talking out their hopes, fears and intentions and giving them the metaphorical “good game” spank on the butt before their departure felt right and felt like a gift.

I felt like I was a part of the composition of Black Rock City even if I was not there in the dust.

There is no FOMO

I was really missing Atish on Friday Night. I thought about him scarfing down a bowl of Tasty Bites and riding his clankity bike to the edge to prepare for his epic Robert Heart Bus set. I imagined Short Stack and Om Skillet and Oontz Pouch and the rest of our friends quietly robing themselves in LED lights together cruising out to the big sound bus for a grand all-night friend reunion. I really wanted to be there doing that.

But it sounds like the huge friend reunion was actually at Panda Lounge this year. And maybe that lentil soup dinner and magical Robot Heart night happened. But my fantasy felt sour when I heard people were booing Skrillex and Diplo on the very same art car days earlier.

It made me realize I was actually missing future experiences that had actually already happened a year ago. Upon this liberation, I felt not sad for missing 2014 but hungry for 2015.

The Playa is actually beautiful

I’m skeptical. Every year I question whether or not it’s actually fun, beautiful, spiritual, challenging, or even hot. Are the many like-minded people with shared values are doing the same activities, just reaffirming and justifying this lavish holiday? Every year I wonder, is this place actually great?

It is. I tuned into the live stream during Burn Morning Sunrise from my clean, warm bed and nearly cried at the beauty. My stomach sank and heart filled. I thought about all the people, now settled into their dust, through the dark night and thirsty for the sun about to get the burst of light they were waiting for. All the little critters who had been critterting all night as if they have somewhere important to be, finding a shared moment to pause and warm their face.

Even from here, it was beautiful and special. I paused with you.

You can feel anything, anywhere, anytime

I spent Burn Week thinking about the last year. I did this while on an Angel Island night hike (yes with my blinky lights) and at home next to a burning fireplace. My dearest friends and I one-by-one deconstructed the last year. What happened? What didn’t? How did we feel? What did we learn?

Then of course, we looked into our next year. I rarely consciously do this at Burning Man, but the experience presents itself to me each time. Next to the fireplace, we each wrote a fear we wanted to conquer on a Super Duper napkin and set it to flame. We were kind and good to our future selves.

And with that, I’m off to Japan!

I’m bringing seven special friends together with equally smart, funny, like-minded creatives in Tokyo. I’ve been planning this conference, Startup The Party, with two friends I met through Burning Man and music. We’re going to a special electronic music festival in a Japanese forrest, finding new ways to look at our cities, seeing art that’s intended to be destroyed and boating on neon spaceship.I’m then rewarding myself with a weekend of riding my bike on an island dedicated to large-scale sculpture art.

Just needs fire.

Thanks for the well wishes. See you on the other side!


More lessons from the Playa

2013 What families can learn from Burning Man
What small teams can learn from Burning Man
2011 What designers can learn from Burning Man

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If you’ve seen one Darren Aronfosky film you’ve seen them all, and you’ve seen none.  Since the days of watching math psychothrillers in my friend’s parent’s basement, I find his movies to be unmistakably his and like nothing else I’ve seen. He’s like a folk-singer. He repeats themes, shots, and patterns in ways that are always innovative but beautifully familiar. Look for these themes in his work:

Clint Mansell writes the score for every feature film Aronofsky directs. He writes a beautiful theme around the narrative and characters that can transcend throughout the film. And like the stories and imagery, the score is always rich, dark,  heady, open and somehow both sad and hopeful all at once. The score for The Fountain is undoubtedly my favorite.  But Mansell’s work on Requiem for a Dream might be the secret sauce that makes a story about addiction and desperate hope stay with us longer than we’d like. Here are the themes from each of his films in order of my favorites.

The Fountain – Death is the Road to Awe (2006)
Requiem for a Dream – Hope Overture (2000)
Black Swan – A Swan Song (for Nina) (2010)
Pi – r^2 (1998)
Noah – Make Thee an Ark (2014)
The Wrestler – Theme (2008)

Recurring images are woven through each of his films in ways that are specific to the stories, but if you’re watching you’ll see it. Look also for images of trees, pools of water, crosses, and characters making extreme demands of their body. For example, in both Noah and The Fountain, the main character plants the seemingly exact kind of seed (that will breath in new life).

Elapsed Time Film Techniques are used in almost all of his films and most famous in Requiem for a Dream to show when the characters are high or  getting high. He uses the same style in Black Swan and leans on a choppy but rich elapsed time technique to show nature changing over time. A good example is the scene of the slithering snake crawling through the Garden of Eden.

Immediate and unnatural growths shift the plot for the main characters in The Fountain, Black Swan and Noah. Without introducing any spoilers, I can tell you to look for organic natural activity happen in an unexplainable, mystical, transformative way. Aronofsky of course also uses the same, and beautiful, filming and editing technique in all three of these scenes.

Rebirth shows up in nearly all of these films. The Fountain and Noah most explicitly explore these concepts as Tom is searches for the fountain of youth in three parallel stories. Whereas, Noah builds an Ark so nature can start anew post-apocalypse. In Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan, however, the characters struggle with addiction to either drugs or perfection. These films resolve not with a warm, nurturing hope for a better future but as an expression of what it looks like  when we go too far.

Strong, still, female leads play a role in almost all of his stories. They coincidentally tend to have long brunette hair, milky skin and can probably make a man feel 3 or 13-feet tall in one glance. He writes their roles to soften the edge of their male counter-parts while remaining pillars of strength. They are strong, reliable, sensual partners that walk with grace, talk with intimacy and of course playing dual roles.

A once young 90s indie actress Jennifer Connelly in Requiem for a Dream returns to Aronofsky’s screen as Noah’s wife. In between Rachel Weisz plays Queen Isabella of Spain and Natalie Portman as a transforming ballerina in Black Swan.

Obsessive, righteous, male leads like Max Coehn in Pi are extremists. Cohen is beyond obsessed with expressing the natural language of the universe through mathematical patterns and hopefully the stock market. Of course, like all Aaronfsky films, he doesn’t quit until he’s gone too far. Noah, too, builds an enormous Ark and is willing to let his family die and slaughter his son’s offspring in the name of what he believes to be a righteous cause. And again, all version of Tom in the Fountain are obsessed with impossible goal to solve the “disease of death” so he can be forever with his wife. Who could forget how far Harry will go (and let his friends and girlfriends go) for a fix? 

Our beautiful universe is a place of wonder for almost all of his characters. Scenes are often set underneath the night sky early in during the films. As the story progresses and time elapses we later see the sky, stars, light or water, like small golden charms, behind silhouetted characters, coming down from the sky. That’s an easy way to tell if the story is about to resolve.


Toy Story 2: Requiem
Buzz and Woody get wasted

The Children Watch Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain
Pretty smart, analytical 9-year-olds break down this three-part love story searching for eternal youth

The Simpsons Requiem for a Dream
Homer tragically eats too many rib sandwiches

All images are screencaps from Youtube videos and obviously belong to the rightful owners

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I’ve been traveling to Detroit every Memorial Day Weekend since 2009 for the annual Electronic Music Festival. You may have read my post last spring about why it’s the best festival of them all. But as I’m maturing, I get tired faster and want to spend my travel dollars going other places, so I was on the fence making my pilgrimage this year. 

— But real quick, before we go any further, I’ll give you the miles I had, the miles I bought and the miles AA gifted me for an extremely fair price. please tweet or message if we can help each other. — 

While flight scanning, AA sent me a very kind email about how some miles of mine were about to expire. It felt like an omen to make the trip. I spent about 30 minutes trying to figure out this UI, then parsing out which flights didn’t have two connections or require me to change airports. I did eventually figure out I could uncheck flights from San Jose and Oakland, that was a win. While of course having no concept of the differences between a 12K flight and a 25K Economy AAnytime or 25K Economy Business First, I just tried to pick flights furthest to the left.

There’s some glitch in the system where after I choose my dates and select the seats, my flight on May 24 would shift to May 10. After 30 minutes of finding a loop hole around that bug, I was finally ready to book the flight and get on with my life.

It’s difficult to know how many miles I have, how much they cost, what that means about the minimum miles I need to have (or use?) and that I couldn’t pay the balance of the flight in cash. Upon expecting to purchase the flight, they tell me it’s on hold and I need to buy more miles. I’m so frustrated and ready to buy the flight I maybe want at this point, I just buy the miles. A few dropdowns and fields that don’t auto-complete later, I see the total is $10 less than how much it would cost to fly on United Airlines. Great!

Somewhere I missed the taxes and fees. I’m sure they clearly stated the numbers somewhere, but you can see how after and the clicking and guessing, I just wanted the task done. Afterwards, I see the extra fees and see that I still have to pay $10 to book a flight with miles. This  was not the cheaper option.

So of course I call them on the phone and kill them with kindness. You know I listened to static elevator music for a long time before the representative told me she could not do refunds. I asked if she could put me in touch with someone else who could help me feel better. More static muzak. Same explanation.

But with honest candor I explain to her what my experience has been like. And that I’m sure it clearly stated the costs but this is my first time buying miles and I had a holistic stressful experience that led me to make mistakes. I told her I knew she does not work on the website and that I know AA cares about their customers. I told her my experience starts from the moment I decide I want to go somewhere until this phone call. I asked “what can you do to help me?” She asked what I had in mind and I explained she had more experience helping people like me.

She offered me 2,000 in miles. Naturally, I explained I was hesitant to accept them because it would just return me to this stressful miles loop. Since she absolutely could not offer a refund, a free flight, vouchers or first class upgrades, I accepted. Of course, I cannot actually purchase the flight for 3 days until the miles I bought online can appear online.

The lesson here is to

  1. Be patient and careful with old websites
  2. Be very kind to associates on the phone. It’s just not their fault
  3. Don’t stop til you get enough

But really, will someone please buy my AA miles?

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Open up your hand-sized glowing rectangle. traverse a glorious landscape of stories, messages and photography anywhere in the universe. It’s really quite Incredible.

Taps, swipes and drags take us anywhere we want to go. However, these views, navigation structures and transitions are still organized analogous to how we interact with paper, windows and physical objects.

Pull to show the refresh spinner hidden behind the Instagram photos. Tap on a Twitter link to add a layer on top of the feed. Drag your homescreen to the left to show more apps on the right. We know the content is not actually behind, on top of or beside one another.

We once needed skeumorphic graphic design to help us understand digital interfaces. That’s also how I see today’s designers relying on animations and transitions to do the same. That’s not to say this a wrong thing to do, it’s where consumers cognitively are today, but still is the case none-the-less. Let’s look at some apps I’m into these days that are handling transitions and animations quite well.

Moves step counter and distance tracker

Scroll down to travel the path of your day. As you tap on the green circle, it bounces and responds to the impact of your tap. Doing that changes the display to time, calories, steps or distance. I love this little animation detail, it feels good and transitions me between unit types which could otherwise be data overload.

If I swipe down hard, the circle hops up into a calendar view. I can then pan left and right to compare progress. It’s delightful and helpful. This is a remarkable app all around.


Secret posts for and from people you know

This itty bitty app is a scrolling feed of secrets from friends, friends of friends and saucy strangers. Here I can share a private tidbit about my life to a big audience. It’s fun, too. The apps says 16 of my friends have joined but I don’t know which.

This app is not only about the secrets about about how it feels to tell them. The screens and letters fade in, giving a ghostly and invisible feeling. When posting a photo I can swipe to right to blur photos. This is a nice example of interaction design that doesn’t rely on an analog from the physical world (like smudging your screen to create a blur effect, for example). Nicely done. Look for my secret from today ;)

Paper stories from your friends

Facebook’s launch of their news reader is exciting. We cannot critique the quality of a social app on the day of its release. How it feels to use it will emerge over time and only then can we make a sound judgement.

However, the designers here use a navigation style similar to Moves, where we travel up and down to move in and out of the detail of content and from left to right to traverse across content. They also have some animations that I’m seeing other folks call “flipboardy”, which is, I think, a good thing. I can be easy to lose context of where you are in this app, but there are escape hatches everywhere in case you can’t find your way home.

Automatic device to help you drive better

This little guy plugs into a port on my car and lets me know the location of my car and how I’m driving. It also makes a little beep when I break or accelerate too hard. Also like the Moves app, I travel down a stream that is my timeline of activity. In fact, a little car drives down the timeline. When it’s next to an activity post, the car’s headlights turn on. It’s a very tiny detail that’s easy to miss and some people may even find cheesy. But in the age of cold, flat, graphicless interfaces, I find it endearing.

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