Empire City, Empire State, via Airbnb

Empire State BuildingI recently traveled to NYC for the Gilt Group Expert panel (review coming shortly).  It was a quick trip but since the meeting was from 7-10 at night, I needed a place to crash in the city.  I recently learned about Airbnb.com and decided to give it a try.  Airbnb is an online marketplace for places to stay, kind of like hotels.com but from individual owners, currently serving 1911 cities in 101 countries!  As a traveler, you can book either rooms or full apartments from their website.  The site has social features so you can connect with people in your network(s) if you choose to.  I easily found lots of options throughout NYC and opted for a full apartment in Murray Hill which was pretty close to the Gilt panel venue.  As expected, a full apartment is more expensive than a private room, but still a bargain at $88 (actually $79 plus a $9 service fee).  I attempted to book the room the night before the conference and instantly got an email claiming the owner had 32 hours to get back to me.  Oh no, I needed the place by 6pm the next night, was this going to work?

I decided to go for it.  Worst case, I could just book a hotel when I got to the city.  The next day, I grabbed the 12:30pm Bolt Bus out of South Station, Boston (another BARGAIN: $15 plus $0.50 service charge when booked online!) and headed to the City.  Bolt even supplies AC power and Wifi (painfully slow so I just tethered my iPhone) so working on my computer for the entire trip down was pretty seamless.  During the ride down, I received an email from the apartment’s owner confirming the booking with a full set of instructions and the owner’s phone number–I had a place to stay!  When I got there, I received the keys to the apartment from an adjacent apartment’s doorman.  Here’s a pic of the building:


The apartment was a decent, clean 1 bedroom with a combined kitchen/living room.


Since it is called airBNB, here was the breakfast portion (oatmeal, teas, coffee, espresso):


Overall, I have to say, it was a great experience.  Sometimes you don’t want the sterile, hotel experience and want to pretend to be a local in a foreign city.  Although I didn’t use it, having a full kitchen could come in handy during a longer stay.  I didn’t meet the host (she was traveling in Europe for work) but we kept in contact via email and texting.  She was responsive and it was nice of her to offer any of the food already in the apartment.  Part of the agreement was I needed to clear the bed and take the sheets to a laundry mat steps from the front door–easy.  It was also requested that I leave $3 for the cleaning service (I left $5).  Airbnb’s tagline is “Travel like a human” and I have to agree; it felt more human and I was connecting to actual people, not employees of corporations.  I’ll still use hotels but Airbnb is a great option for a more “local” experience at a better price.  I may also try renting out our studio/carriage house in our backyard in Cambridge.  If I do, I’ll let you know how it goes…

Posted on December 6, 2009 at 7:13 pm by James · Permalink · 2 Comments
In: Travel · Tagged with: ,

Marker and Parker CD

gviewThis week, Marc Zegans and I finished mixing and mastering his “Marker and Parker” CD.  Marc is a talented Cambridge-based spoken word poet and writer.  I produced his last CD, “Night Work” which was culled from a live performance Marc did at Issue in Brooklyn.  The new CD is really interesting as Marc brought in Don Parker, an octogenarian jazz pianist who accompanies him for most of the tracks, creating a nice dynamic against Marc’s voice.  The tracks were recorded at the Lily Pad in Inman Square, Cambridge and mixed and mastered at Bitwelder Studio.  I used Apple Logic for mixing and Wave Burner (with WaveArts plugins) for mastering/sequencing.

The final track list:

  1. Rack Em
  2. Bar Rag
  3. Him
  4. Sunken Contents
  5. Love That Waitress Blues
  6. Mile High
  7. Too Fucked To Drink
  8. Rigidity

The CD will hopefully be released by then end of the year and will be available via CDBaby and iTunes.

Posted on November 6, 2009 at 12:18 am by James · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Studio

Goodbye Parallels!

I used to use Parallels 3.0 for creating virtual machines on my Mac. It worked pretty well when I needed to boot up Windows XP to test site compatibility with Internet Explorer. I never bothered to upgrade to 4.0, even when I couldn’t create a VM for Ubuntu 9.04 using 3.0. After becoming frustrated with that, I tried out VirtualBox, an open source VM manager from Sun. Although not as full featured as Parallels, the installation of Ubuntu was painless and works great. I continued to use Parallels for Windows and VirtualBox for Ubuntu…that is until today when I learned Parallels 3.0 is not compatible with Snow Leopard!!! I’m going to try out VMWare Fusion 3.0 which was just released this week and looks promising.  It even allows you to import existing Parallels instances.

Posted on October 31, 2009 at 9:52 am by James · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Tools · Tagged with: 

Engine Yard Roadshow

I attended the Engine Yard Performance in the Cloud Roadshow in Boston this week.  Second Rotation used to host the Gazelle website at Engine Yard for several years but we ended up moving to Amazon EC2 with Rightscale so we could take advantage of dynamically scaling the site as traffic patterns changed.  On EC2, when we needed more instances, we could simply clone as many app servers (or front end load balancers) as we needed and be serving additional traffic in about 5 minutes!  As traffic subsided, we could simply remove the new instances from haproxy and terminate them, keeping our costs low.  This kind of dynamically scaling of your hardware environment was just not possible at Engine Yard, that is, until their Cloud product was released (I guess the service we had is now considered their Private Cloud product).  I was curious to the new cloud product in action.

The show included an intro by Tom Morini, Engine Yard’s CTO, Steve Hudson from New Relic, and Dave Murphy from Soasta who have an interesting product with CloudTest which allows you to simulate hundreds to potentially millions of users hitting your application.

The most interesting talk was given by Abheek Anand, Engine Yard’s product manager.  He demoed Engine Yard Cloud by deploying FatFreeCRM, an open source CRM application and gave some good tips about scaling your applications in the cloud.  Here is the Cloud Scaling Performance Mantra:

Here are my notes on Abheek’s 4 ways to Scale a Rails Application:

  1. Use the right stack
    managed EY
    high performance
    configured out of the box
    standards based, open source
  2. Scalable Application Design
    focus on user happiness
    BUT, be prepared to scale
    partition to scale
    optimize for common workflows
    move non-critical services out of http response path
    measure, measure, measure
  3. Agile Deployments
    1 click and repeatable deploys
    integrate deployments into development workflows
    environment cloning and tear-down
  4. The Right Components
    what is your performance bottleneck?

3 Takeaways
from Abheek’s talk:

  1. Start small, focus on user happiness
  2. Scaling is about iterating fast
  3. the Right Platform can let you scale (hmm, Engine Yards perhaps?)

Overall, my interest in Engine Yard was renewed because they now have a lower cost, more scalable architecture still backed by support engineers who know Rails really well.  For small teams, that support is invaluable when you’re trying to debug issues after you’ve deployed your app.  I’ll definitely be using up my $25 $50 Roadshow credit to test out their new cloud offering.

Posted on October 28, 2009 at 6:12 pm by James · Permalink · 2 Comments
In: Cloud Computing · Tagged with: ,


Welcome to the new Bitwelder Website!  The old site hadn’t been updated in several years so I figured it’s time for a refresh.  I’ll be updating when I get chance on the latest tech, software, and music that is rocking my world.

Posted on October 22, 2009 at 3:36 pm by James · Permalink · Leave a comment
In: Welcome · Tagged with: