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The low-down: Where have I been?

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It may be a bit narcissistic for me to think anyone missed me or even noticed I was gone, but for those of you that did notice heres the low-down.

Without a doubt, the time I spent working at Instructables last summer was the most fun I have ever had in my life. It was the perfect combination of working among smart creative individuals ( Eric, Christy, Tim, Paul, and Noah), having such an open ended job where I was actually paid to do what I love, and being in bright sunny free thinking northern California. The cherry on top of this summer of awesomeness was going to Burning Man (see pic below). It was something I had wanted to do ever since I had read about it online many years ago, and, as fate would have it, I ended up going the first year I was actually old enough to.

I don't think I am ever going to forget driving Tim's manual truck (I don't know how to drive stick) on a deserted road in Nevada, at 3:30 am Sunday morning, the energy drinks wearing off and Tim sleeping peacefully in the passenger seat, while it rained intermittently, with only a vague idea where I was going, and doing this all with just a NY state learners permit. Nor will I forget getting my first sight of the playa, just as the sun was coming up, with all the massive metallic sculptures glistening on the horizion. The week that followed was just pure surreal amazingness. Anything I wrote about my first Burning Man experience wouldn't give it justice, but Tim describes it nicely in his Burning Man instructable.

The most surprising thing about the summer though, was that by the end of it I actually looked forward to going back to school. I wanted to learn circuit building and other cool electrical engineering skills that I could incorporate into my future Instructables projects. I wanted to be able to post impressive electronic projects, instead of just minor circuit hacks like the tazer glove and capacitor charger. I wanted to master the movement of the electron.

One plane trip from SFO to JFK later, I'm back home. The contrast between Frisco and NY was staggering. If there was one word to describe how NY looked to me at that time it would be "gray". The experience was like watching the Wizard of Oz in reverse, going from the bright, colorful, surreal land of Oz back to black and white Kansas. Don't get me wrong, I love my hometown. I am of the opinion that NYC is the single greatest city in the world (California wins as a state, but in terms of a single city nothing can compare to NY). If you don't agree with me, stand in the center of the Brooklyn Bridge and turn around to get a full 360 degree perspective. Your opinion will be swayed if not changed.

Still, September 07 was a very gray month for me. It took me a few weeks to wade through the bureaucratic bullshit of Brooklyn Poly and finally get registered for classes. The classes I did get registered for were all prerequisites and nowhere near my area of interest. I know I am going to have to suck it up and complete them eventually (especially now that my school has merged with NYU, so I get to graduate with a much more impressive degree then the school I was originally accepted into), but at the time I was just too miserable and distracted to pay attention in class.

It was even hard for me to respond to e-mails from summertime coworkers because hearing about the activities at the tower brought back memories of a happier time. I was in a state of near-complete mental shutdown, my creativity was shot, and I was depressed. I decided that I needed to take a break from school, so I took a leave of absence for the Spring semester.

That leave of absence bought me a time period of 8 months to do whatever I wanted. I figure why not live out my weaboo fantasy, and travel to Japan. I can not say exactly when my obsession with Japanese culture began. Maybe it was subconsciously planted in my brain with the cherry tree in front of my childhood home, cultivated with anime, and brought to fruition when I actually started reading about their history and culture. Whatever the reason, it has been something I've always wanted to do, and what better time to "find myself" then while on a break from college (Its stereotypical-tastic!).

There was only one obstacle standing between me and the romantic imagery I had of bathing in hot-springs and meditating in front of Shinto shrines ... money, at least a few thousand dollars of it. Japan aint cheap, and even if I was going to get a job to support me while I was there, I would still need a butt-load of money for the initial travel and living investment. (On that note if any of you Instructablites knows someone in Japan who you could get me in touch with regarding job opportunities or living quarters, or has some advice for living cheaply while there, I'm all ears)

I spent most of January half-assedly looking for a job. I did not devote my whole ass to the task because, no matter how much I wanted to go to Japan, I wasn't too excited about the prospect of getting a minimum wage job which utilized none of my skills (I have very unique skills, so finding a job that used them would be next to impossible). It was looking as though my next few months would be filled with minimum wage menial labor. That is until I thought of throwing myself on the mercy of Eric and Christy, and asking for my old job back.

I lacked the testicular fortitude to ask them directly, and so reverting to grade school mentality (the one that figures rejection will hurt less through proxy), I asked Tim to test the waters and see if my old job was still available (grade school version: Psst Tim, I've got a crush on Eric & Christy ::school girl giggles:: can you ask if they like me). Tim was kind enough to oblige. A few e-mails later I found out I could come back as long as I promised to return to school in September. (This was no problem because I had already made the same promise to my parents, and myself because I didn't want to loose my 20k a year scholarship).

One plane trip at the end of February from JFK to OAK later, I'm back in California.

My longterm goal for the next few months is to live as cheaply as possible, learn Japanese, and try to acquire some work that I can do while in Japan. Living cheaply has been easier then expected. I quit smoking (something I thought would be much harder then it was, but after two months of lukewarm-turkey I was able to eliminate my nicotine cravings entirely). I am able to feed myself almost entirely off the excess of others, with the occasional purchased produce being the exception. I bike for transportation (that same yellow road bike in the picture below). I'd say that overall, it took more effort to stop being a consumer-whore then it did to quit smoking, but it feels equally good to be free of both of those bad habits.

Well thats my story. I should probably get back to work.

New instructables coming soon ...

47 Replies

mg0930mg (author)2008-11-14

I read this. This is great story. I'm glad things worked out for you. :D

dr.light (author)2008-07-17

you also fail to take into account the big HUGE bummer that is decompression... i.e the blues associated with returning from the PLAYA... it actually just brought a tear to my eye remembering both my first years aftermath, as well as 07 (i returned from the playa to find my grandmother had passed). Its really hard to return to normal after being in the desert, let alone at Burningman. If you're playaside this summer (im guessing no, cause of the saving $$thing) come stop by the Kostume Kult (somewhere on esplanade) and check out my LED jumpsuit that will hopefully be finished by then...

Tetranitrate (author)dr.light2008-07-17

Yeah, returning to NY because it was the end of the summer would have been bad enough, but combined with decompression, it was just horrible. At least this time I know what to expect when I go back. I'm not going to be able to make it to BM this year because I have saved up enough money for my trip, so I'll be couchsurfing my way across Japan for the month of August.

iamthemargerineman (author)2008-03-15

you are quite a magical little lad. kudos to you for quitting smoking. in regards to employment in Japan... I would deem it wise to study up on your Japanese. i... unfortunately have to drop it and take Chinese next year for the IB and all the rest of it. but, you probably don't know what I'm talking about... carrying on, when travelling in japan, if you have a tourist visa, you get an unlimited pass on the Japan Rail (it's national). pretty nifty really. ehmm... food shouldn't be too big of a problem, you can pop into a supermarket and just pick what looks appetizing.( or not, which can actually turn out to be pretty good.) for housing... i dunno if you want to live in the city or what but there are these things called Gaijin no Uchi... "Foreigner's House" cheapo little {(and i mean little) but that shouldn't bother you seeing as i have read that you are not a consumerist whore} rooms with everything you need, fridge, pots, pans, little stove, futon, tv, internet, so yeah. a nice little crib. but... you share bathrooms and toilets, but it shouldn't be too bad. It'll b like living in the Sunset Arms Boarding House from Hey Arnold. better for somethign short term, no contracts, that type of thing. you could probably find some college kid willing to share an apt. with you... and maybe... if you're lucky... since you know english, you could haggle a bit and he/she might be willing to waive a bit of the rent for a "live-in-english-teacher". knowing english is key. oh. and if you know any other languages... use em. employment... is tricky. best left to you to figure out... but... if you're stumped... english speakers are needed in apple stores, stores in general, to cater to foreign customers and as tutors. you could make a nice living off tutoring people in English all day. College kids in the morning... elementary/middle/high school kids after 3. So after all the blahblahblah, i probably ended up reiterating what you know but in a bumbly jumble of mumbles. and. i feel obliged to say, that so far, you are the single most amzing instructabler. you have by far the highest ammount of damn good instructables amassed in one clump. so kudos do that too. oh yeah. just thought of this one. you're good at writing, or so it seems, your literary style is very amusing. if you get a job with a green living kind of magazine or something they might sponser you on a "green" trip through japan. because... japan's people generally live in small domiciles especially in the city. but everything's done very efficientley and they try not to consume too much. and in the countryside, like outside of nagoya, by toyota, people use compost in their gardens and reuse the plastic bags and bottles really creatively. so yeah. that's something else to chew on. good luck!

It says that I don't need a visa for trips under 90 days, would I still be able to get one (Ideally I would spend about three months in Japan before returning to the states)? If I had a tourist visa would I be able to do tutoring work, or would I need a work visa for that? Either way, I didn't know about that unlimited pass on the Japan Rail, which sounds extremely sweet. Food should definitely not be a problem. I will just buy an industrial sized bag'o'rice, and be good for weeks. The Gaijin no Uchi are also something I did not know about, and it sounds like they include more amenities then I even need. I would probably want to live on Honshu, because then I can use the rail system to get to do most of the sightseeing I want to accomplish on weekends. I think tutoring in English would be the best way for me to earn some money while I am there. That type of work wouldn't have a longterm commitment, so it would be something that I could do for just a few months. Thanks for the compliments on my writing. I've been told that I have a good writing ability and that I am fairly creative, which is why I think working at Instructables is the perfect job for me. It gives me the opportunity to materialize whatever crazy ideas pop into my head, and then convey those thoughts the same way my screwy brain perceives them.

hey. sorry about that... i didn't see your reply until just now...but yeah! good luck with everything. i don;t think you need a visa if you're just gonna do tutoring... only if you were to say... work for a large corporation or soemthing that would involve paperwork and contracts. Good luck with everything! Keep the instructables coming! }: )

Derin (author)iamthemargerineman2008-06-26

in here you need a visa for everything

iamthemargerineman (author)Derin2008-06-29

huh? where is "here"?

Derin (author)iamthemargerineman2008-06-30

Turkey (the country,not the bird)

iamthemargerineman (author)Derin2008-06-30


Derin (author)iamthemargerineman2008-06-30

ok good today we tried to get a Schagen visa and the guy even asked if we have an income

iamthemargerineman (author)Derin2008-07-04

Oh, the Customs Officers these days...

Derin (author)iamthemargerineman2008-07-04

yea,we went to a million banks to get a missing page and then there was missing stuff he sent us out

trebuchet03 (author)2008-03-14

I was in a state of near-complete mental shutdown, my creativity was shot, and I was depressed.

Squid Labs Withdrawal.... I, for one, was very sad to return to the suburban scene - I discovered that I really don't like it. I too was a bit sad, but I'm taking my senior design courses now - so I'm fully immersed in a corporate-esque class for my design project.... I also miss the "just get it done" attitude. But at least you got to go to Burning Man! I had to drive home early to help my sister move, which in turn was delayed upon my arrival and I was stuck in Gainesville, FL - in the rain - for too long (insert angry face here).

Well, I'm glad to hear you quit smoking - that will save you boatloads towards your trip on top of allowing your innards to heal :p

So how is that living situation working out? Is summer house mate still in the Area?

Say hi to everyone for me :D

Tetranitrate (author)trebuchet032008-03-18

Squid Labs Withdrawal - tell me about it. I think my miserableness was caused by a few different things (all pretty much related to leaving Squid): - First off there was the scenery change. Getting to experience the tower's view of San Francisco every day is pretty amazing. (Your lucky, you didn't experience the loss of palm trees when returning to Florida. I think for me they subconsciously give the impression of a tropical island and, with that, a feeling of relaxation) - Secondly, there was the weather change (another thing you did not have to deal with, although that rain doesn't sound fun). Going from nice warm summer in California back to winter in New York was not fun. Typical winter blues ensued. - Third of all, with the cold winter came a lack of bicycle riding opportunities, and my brain really missed all those sweet happy-making endorphins released during exercise. Biking is the only form of exercise that I find enjoyable. - Lastly, I was broke. I really should have budgeted better over the summer. But, yeah, that can all pretty much be summed up in what you so accurately called Squid Labs Withdrawal. Biking has been much easier since I quit smoking. I feel like I can actually breath now. Although, going through the Posey tube still sucks (or blows, depending on whether I am going to Alameda or Oakland (yuk yuk yuk)). I found a place much closer (and cheaper) than where we were over the summer. Its around 15th St and Jackson, just a couple of blocks away from Lake Merit, so I no longer have to bike down San Pablo for half an hour. Jackson is still around. He gave me a call after he got called from my new roommate for a reference. I haven't met up with him yet, but we will probably go out for sushi one of these weekends. There are a lot more people working at the tower now, and a many more bicycles which arrive every morning and disappear every night, which makes me glad so many people are using them for their commute. Instructables has completely moved out of the kite loft, and now just occupies the hallway (makes it much easier to talk to each other). Other than that things are pretty much the same around here.

westfw (author)Tetranitrate2008-03-28

heh. I remember when I first visited the bay area for a job interview, while I was attending school in Philadelphia. There was the usual company stuff, and then they added to the lure by showing me around the area: PARC, The Stanford Campus (yeah: palm trees), stuff like that...

A good name (author)2008-03-28

Haha, you ripped off the testicular fortitude thing from the big bang theory.

Tetranitrate (author)A good name2008-03-28

Actually, I didn't. I don't even know what you are talking about. I was under the impression that "testicular fortitude" is a common slang term.

westfw (author)2008-03-13

Yeah, I've noticed that a lot of people find "enjoyable employment" a major interference to completing schooling. That's especially true when there is (or seems to be) a big gap in between what you're learning in school and what people are happily paying you for. I don't know how people manage to stick around schools for advanced degrees (I guess it helps if what you think you want to do matches closely with what's available in the post-graduate studies, but ...)

Tetranitrate (author)westfw2008-03-14

Yeah, and you've been to the tower and seen firsthand quite how enjoyable that employment can be (with the ten foot long pvc nerf blow guns and whatnot).

I think the fact that I received a more useful education (knowledge pertaining to my areas of interest) over the summer than during my entire freshman year, combined with the thought that I was being paid for one while the other was putting me thousands of dollars into debt, was just too much for my brain to handle.

I knew the system was bad, but experiencing these two extremes in such a short time period made me realize how truly horrible it was. I'll admit my case is not typical since most people don't attend a college that is painfully un-motivating, and the majority of people do not get to experience their dream jobs by the time they are eighteen. This was just the way it ended up working out for me.

I am not foolish enough to believe that money = happiness, but I can't deny that it makes life easier. I could spend a significant portion of my life striving for an impressive diploma, which would allow me to get a good job, where I would make a good salary, and be able to live an easy life.


I could make happiness the main pursuit of my life, and work at whatever job I enjoyed regardless of salary. Hell, if I found the secret of happiness I wouldn't mind being a panhandling bum living in alleyways.

edit: After previewing the comment, I realize what I type always turns out to be much longer then I expect.

westfw (author)Tetranitrate2008-03-14

> most people don't attend a college that is painfully un-motivating, and the majority of people do not get to experience their dream jobs by the time they are eighteen.
Some people have career goals that make college not just un-motivating, but an actively hostile weeding-out process (think pre-med, pre-law...) The "dream-job for the summer" is less common, but there's a fair fraction of people for whom any 40-hour job that seems to offer financial independence is awfully attractive, especially compared to the whole "paying thousands of dollars to be forced to take bad classes I'm not interested in." ("who is john galt?", eh?)

Alas, this is one of the reasons that prospective employers are so anxious to see that college diploma. It's not only an indication of some innate intelligence, it's also proof that you're willing to stick with something through the parts that are less than ... motivating. College is sort of the civilian equivalent of boot camp and hazing... Even dream jobs have problems now and then (success rate of startups = low. Or... I know a guy who had what he considered his dream job in the video gaming industry. At SegaSoft. And then he was depressingly unemployed for quite some time. Ouch.)

Tetranitrate (author)westfw2008-03-18

Yeah, I understand that a diploma indicates determination as much as (possibly more than) intelligence. Its just that I have yet to decide whether I want to spend all that extra time/work/money for a piece of paper that indicates my perseverance, or pursue knowledge for the sake of it. If it is the latter, I can accomplish it much cheaper and more efficiently than by going to college.

caitlinsdad (author)Tetranitrate2008-03-18

You know, life is not fair and no one knows what kind of ride you get out of it. It is funny to read and find that I am an alum of the college you are attending but would continue the rant that it still hasn't changed two decades later... I would have to say the only thing I got out of it was a life lesson based on experience at this particular engineering school was that you learn on your own and figure out on your own how to be resourceful and creative. Corporate life dictates that you have a degree to be part of the upper/middle caste. You have to pay your dues somewhere but sometimes you can't pick and choose- (maybe you have a scholarship here or other reasons for the lesser of two evils...) Having been on the giving end and receiving end of corporate layoffs, the degree meant nothing. It only gets you in the door. When it came to hiring folks, a degree didn't impress us as much as a gut feeling that someone had intuition and drive, a personality didn't hurt either and the ability to communicate effectively. So many people are staying in school to get higher degrees but effectively overqualifying themselves and show up with no real world experience and have no idea that a lot of things they read in books don't apply in the real world. So...I don't know where this is going but there are a lot of tough choices to make as you go on in life. I could only tell you that make these decisions that make you happy and take a chance every once in a while. You have no need to impress anyone but yourself. Life does come at you pretty fast and hard.

trebuchet03 (author)Tetranitrate2008-03-14

I am not foolish enough to believe that money = happiness, but I can't deny that it makes life easier. I could spend a significant portion of my life striving for an impressive diploma, which would allow me to get a good job, where I would make a good salary, and be able to live an easy life.


Spend a significant portion of your life for the impressive diploma, start your own business - earn a good salary - probably learn the impressive diploma doesn't exactly help with most of this business stuff....

At least, that's what I want to do... I'm just working on figuring how to do it :p

zachninme (author)trebuchet032008-03-15

I hear they teach you how to do that at business school ;-)
...wait, damn...

GorillazMiko (author)2008-03-13

I have one question. How come in the video on YouTube of you with the Giant Match Instructable, it says R.I.P Billy Gordon at the end?

I never got that question answered.

ll.13 (author)GorillazMiko2008-03-14

Because Billy Gordon invented them, and the first prototype blew it's creator up with it.

GorillazMiko (author)ll.132008-03-14

...Billy Gordon is Tetranitrate. In the video, at the end it shows him and it says the date (1987 I think. Don't remember. 1987-2000 or something) and I was like :-O.

ll.13 (author)GorillazMiko2008-03-15

That was Billy Gordon junior! xD

Labot2001 (author)ll.132008-03-14

Funny; I Google'd billy gordon matches and the first two results were Tetranitrate's Ible ;]

NachoMahma (author)2008-03-13

. WB! You disappeared about the same time that I found this place, so I can't really say I missed you. heehee . That was a very enjoyable read - I like your writing style. And it was a good story, too. Do you have any other writings posted on the 'Net? . I've tried to stop smoking, but just can't do it. Congratulations!

Tetranitrate (author)NachoMahma2008-03-15

Nope, nowhere else, I exclusively use Instructables for my creative output. They have been good to me, and it would make me feel "dirty" to be with any other website.

Weissensteinburg (author)2008-03-14

It's good to hear from you again, and i'm glad to hear that you're doing well. Have some extra fun at the labs for me =]

ll.13 (author)2008-03-14

-Welcome back! =D

Tool Using Animal (author)2008-03-13

It's good to have you back, if I weren't too macho, I'd tell you I missed you.

Awww, I wuv you too.

KentsOkay (author)2008-03-14

Welcome back!!

stasterisk (author)2008-03-13

Hey PS, I'm taking a circuits class right now, after departmental wrangling and not taking the prerequisites. It's the best class ever! Everything makes sense! I'll tell you everything I know when I see you.

stasterisk (author)2008-03-13


Goodhart (author)2008-03-13

Congrats on quitting the cancer sticks. I did that in 2002, but not before I smoked for a good 20+ years. Waking to the hacking up of phlegm is not a pleasant "good morning" after awhile.

killerjackalope (author)2008-03-13

Eh this is odd you have a similar style of clothing from me, a job, waiting to go to tech, cycle and ok you quit smoking, I just defined a new sterotype based on small common points that also could apply to a few hundred of the people I know... wow I'm directing the next Coco Pops ad campaign our way! I really enjoyed that little explanation of where you've been, You're quite matter of fact, I'm glad you got to see burning man, that is something I will have to do... By the way congrats on quitting... I gave up quitting and just cut down, mainly because I get them cheap... You need to understand that giving money to the man is not that bad, buy reduced items like deli stuff at the end of the day for pennies, result: the man is technically paying you in food to waste his money...

LinuxH4x0r (author)2008-03-13

Welcome back!

Brennn10 (author)2008-03-13

Great read! Welcome back, and have fun!

Labot2001 (author)2008-03-13

Great to have you back! Can't wait for that new Ible, and good luck with Japan! ;]

Kiteman (author)2008-03-13

Welcome back.

whatsisface (author)2008-03-13

That's a good read, thanks for taking the time.

zachninme (author)whatsisface2008-03-13

Agreed :-) Good to have you back!