New Zealand: An American’s Notes

We took a driving tour through North New Zealand where we had fun visiting waterfalls, villages, hot springs and seeing the magnificent countryside we’ve always heard about. We met some great people and tried some new foods and drinks along the way. Here are some of the smaller notes we made while there.


Tipping and the real cost of eating out

There is no tipping which  can really throw you off with understanding what is expensive or not in the country. For example, you may find that you can get two burgers (2X$10) and beers (2X$5) for a total of $30 NZD. That sounds pretty pricey at first,  but it includes taxes AND tip.

In the U.S. before tax and tip you’d be looking at roughly $21.84 ($30-%20-%9.) Then, you have to consider the exchange rate on top of that which is currently $1.3USD=$1NZD. So the true U.S. equivalent would be a $15-$16 meal for two with alcohol before taxes and tip. Not bad at all.

Paying at the counter

This threw us off at first, and even though you are reading this it will throw you off too. When you’re done with your meal you must get up and go to the host, tell them where you sat, and pay your bill there. It’s easy to get comfortable relaxing after your meal and forgetting there is one more bit of effort expected of you before you can leave. A friend told me they see this in most countries, out of the 10+ countries we have visited so far only Australia and NZ worked this way.

Ordering all at once

When you are in NZ the idea of ordering drinks, then apps, then the meal (with time breaks in between,) is lost on many waiters. They expect you to consolidate your whole meal upfront and give your final order all at once. We had a few awkward moments where they were waiting for us to keep ordering and us waiting for them to leave.

Signature or Pin

I know much of the world has moved onto the chip and pin for credit cards but New Zealand had the hardest time understanding what do with my pinless card. It really confused them. Most countries have just run the card and handed me a pen to sign the receipt. I know it wasn’t a language issue, since we speak the same language. I visited many countries so far and the pinless card (even though it had a chip) confused NZ/AUS the most.

Lost In Translation

Between all the above customs our first few days in NZ felt a bit awkward at the restaurants. There were a couple times we clearly ordered one (with the one finger gesture) coffee for Jackie and we would still get two. Weird. Is it our accent???


Grilled cheese sandwiches are lovingly called “Toasties.”

Kiwi’s offer a lot of lamb, avocado,calamari, steak , and fish & chips in their menus.

McDonalds in Aukland
McDonalds in Aukland

We noticed that fast food joints like McDonalds or KFC were a bit more up-scale and modern looking, compared to our fast food teenage run shacks. I personally think the chicken at KFC was better – Jackie didn’t care for it. (I would agree that the biscuits and the mashed potatoes were sub-par).  There was far more variety at the McDonalds stops with a larger McCafe selection and tasty salads and lamb wraps.



We also thought the burgers in New Zealand were pretty bad. To each his own. I’m sure they say the same about us. BUT for other Americans out there, I’d try something else on the menu. The bread is crumbly and the meat is –  bits of chewiness. We tried burgers at local fast food joints as well as restaurants and they all had the same textures and flavours.I think it is the local preference. We did quite like the sides though. The Sweet Potato fries and Pumpkin Balls were great.  Also, the ribs were a bit off for me.

hqdefaultSavory Pie

Every country has a local favorite that gets replicated in every store, from 7-11 to, McDonalds, to a full blown restaurant. (In Japan for instance they had sushi at 7-11.) In New Zealand it was meat pies. We had a few, at the best and not so best places. I didn’t find a huge difference between the best and worst. It is basically a gravy rich chicken pot pie you ate with your hands. Meh.


The kiwis seem to prefer sparkling water so check the label. Yes every country has options for either but New Zealand leaned to sparkle.

Alcohol and Beers


We have ginger beer in the states but they are non-alcoholic. Ginger Beer in NZ and AU were mixed with vodka, others Rum etc. They were our favorite drinks. We couldn’t get enough.

The liquor store carried tons of premixed beverages. Almost every standard mixed 0002852_johnnie_walker_red_cola_375ml_cansdrink came pre-mixed and canned.  (eg. Johnnie Walker and Code, Rum and Coke)

If you like ciders than NZ and AU are great spots for you. They have a plethora of cider selections eg peach, pear, apple – you name it.

If you like India Pale Ale you are out of luck. Jackie loves the stuff and most Kiwi and Aussies had no idea what we were talking about when we asked for the stuff.

Street Talk

A few times we asked for directions. The person would tell us “it is a minute up the road.” It turned out to be 5 steps away. A minute was what we would call “a sec.”


In the U.S. our salutations usually go, “How you doin?” or “How’s it going?” In New Zealand it is merged into “How you going?” The U.S. response to “Thanks” is either “All good” or “No problem”, “you’re welcome” or even “no worries.” In New Zealand we often got “that’s alright” or “that’s ok.”


It may say “yield to pedestrians” but no car yields for pedestrians. We would almost get run over on designated crosswalks and plenty of distance for the car to slow down and stop. We would get edged off the cross walk. Rude drivers overall I’d say across the country.

Public Holidays

The rules for stores and restaurants vary greatly on public holidays. Some areas are shut down, some are not. We were around for easter and many spots (if open) had rules that a customer couldn’t drink without ordering food. The amount of food required varied greatly as well. Some places demanded multiple meals, others just allowed an appetizer. 

Supposedly, from what we heard, drinking rules are strict – they post measurements of how to rate the intoxication level of customers (eg. by talkativeness, slurring, and posture) on the bars. 

Internet Scarcity

Don’t get me started on this. It was hard as hell to get internet in New Zealand and Australia. If we got it it was limited, if it wasn’t capped it was slow as molasses. Upload and download speeds were faaaaar below 1Mb/s. Hotels would often give us a 50 MB vouchers that we could use for free while there. Gee thanks. :-/


When you turn on the telly you might be surprised with some of the sports you see. I don’t think snooker or rugby would surprise anyone, but there is one game called Netball where people run around with a version of a basketball (without dribbling) and shoot a into a hoop without a backboard from a few feet away.


Other micro notes

We noticed the Kiwis were pretty chill about rules. A few cents here or there were no problem. If something was misunderstood about an agreement or rule the business didn’t put up a fuss. 


Get a camper or suv if you can swing it. The higher view over fences as you drive would have been worth it for us.

We heard that all emergency care is completely covered by the government whether you are a resident or foreigner. So, that’s nice 🙂


I know this is a small thing, but I started to notice that all the lights were set as down being on and up being off. Subtle, but noticeably different.

Tokyo Tips & Cliff Notes

You can check out a more detailed description of Tokyo and Kyoto here. For a quickie on Tokyo notes read on.


  • Most of the time, public transportation was between $2-5 USD one way
  • Ramen was about $5-8
  • Sushi $2-$5 per nigiri
  • You can spend $45 for a single sushi plate easily at a casual place if you aren’t paying attention.
  • Banana $1-3 but then $5-10 other places. here is a story we read as to why.
  • Big Mac $3.14


Things we noticed

  • Separate slippers were provided to you, after you take off your shoes, for the bathroom at the hotel and some restaurants
  • Shops and restaurants are on each level of building – explore up.
  • Lots of Department stores. Basement always had good food.
  • McDonalds highlighted chicken teriyaki burgers
  • Many Ramen shops used vending machine to dispense ticket to hand to chef at resturant
  • Strong posture in workers/waiters/hostesses. All very helpful.
  • Public transport was awesome. Not nearly as complicated as people described. If you know your final destination you can use displays to get around. If not, staff was helpful.
  • When people highlight Tokyo there is so much over characterization. Much of the city is very typical of any other big city. Strange things were tucked away, like most strange things usually are.
  • People really do wear kimonos out and about.
  • Alleys and main streets all had amazing restaurants – no bad places really.
  • When it comes to numbers – Arabic numbers seem to be used universally over native characters.
  • Major city intersections often all “all way” crossing. Where pedestrians can go diagonal, or across intersections at the same time. First all cars go, then all people go etc.
  • Some fruit is outrageously priced. Fruit is a big gift giving item. Cantaloupe $100. Single Strawberry $5
  • Uniqlo is full of departments stores



  • Sumo – Buy months in advance.
  • Common Words: Sumimasen (excuse me – use before asking for help ), Arigato (demo or guy may), Konichiwa, Ichi/Ni
  • Google Translate is awesome – use the card feature and just show it after you say hi and or excuse me
  • Japan Rail Pass (JRP) is awesome. If you plan to go between cities (Kyoto/Tokyo) get it. It works in local Tokyo as well. Remember: You NEED to exchange the pass for a ticket when you enter Japan for the first time. Then as a pass you just show between stops.
  • Careful of subway day passes if touring around and not sure where you will end up – many are only for one line
  • Even if there is English in signs, and even when many people “speak” English – taxis do not. Don’t expect it. Get a picture of the destination in native language to show.
  • Even if you’ve tried sushi at home and didn’t like it tries it again here – changed my mind on some items
  • Keep an open mind on what you eat. If people next to you order it at least you know it isn’t a agag 😉
  • Ask your hotel to make reservations for you in advance. Many popular places need it.

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Things We Did

With so many things to check off I ended up making a Google Spreadsheet list to track what we wanted to do and where. You can copy it and use it yourself, or use it to get an idea of things to do. Remember though, one of the biggest lessons I learned in Tokyo was that I should just stumble into places as much as possible.

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 7.07.18 PM

Efficiently Inefficient: Processes that can improve quality and quantity of life

For our latest project at Socialize Isaac and I are going to increase the release cycle even further and go from a few releases per group per week, to a few releases per day. I find moving more efficiently and quickly over the years always takes a few non-intuitive jarring mental steps. (If they didn’t we would have been way more efficient as a society way earlier on in history).

Here are a couple things that always seem to be the foundation of inching your way up the efficiency hill.

1) Get to a point at which you truly trust your results, not just feel good or secure about them, but quantitative based results that have a quantitative “I trust this” number. This is what I call the “don’t look over your shoulder moment”, because if you’re looking over your shoulder to make sure nothing has gone wrong, you are not looking forward to make sure new things go right. This accomplished with unit/itests tests, or in our everyday lives marking your calendar or adding a reminder. Even at managing people in the office, time and time again setting up employees to be trusted and autonomous, with a simple audit system to make you aware only if something is wrong, has proven time and time again to produce happier, more creative, more productive employees in a company that can scale. Basically every one wins big when you make sure you create process that handles things that are set to let you know if you need to take action, and quite %100 otherwise.

2) Really reconsider what you’re are willing to bare in mistakes. This is usually a major brain switch moment. Sometimes people can work 100x more efficiently and productively if they just allow themselves to be wrong for a totally fixable 1 minute per year. Yes your server may go down once a year, but instead of working hard to make sure that never happens (which is impossible), work hard to make sure systems are in place to recover super quickly. The funny thing is when you accomplish #1 above, mixed with this #2 item, you start performing better than you could have imagined.

3) Remove process that is there to support the more intuitive faux “warm and fuzzy” feelings that keep 1 and 2 from happening.

4) Always push yourself, and those around you, to test process that offer efficiency gains even if you don’t feel comfortable at first. Comfort is often the foundation of slowness, and trying new things even against your “better judgement” are the only ways to break free.


For you nerds out there, here is the article from github Isaac passed on to me that sparked our latest evolution in product releases. Although this post and its sentiment are, in my book, universal throughout life and business and not code.

Leave the caves and create your tools!

GAE offers a free to get started approach, along with an instant “hello word” initial environment, making sandboxing ideas and building helpful tools for productivuty a snap.

To get started, download GAE, press the plus sign in the bottom left corner. Set the directory you would like to work out of and your almost done. Well, at least you are already at the stage you need to be to start playing with the system locally, in what we call the development environment (No one can see your system but you.) Just hit the [play] button on the GAE dashboard and you are running with your first environment. Just click the Browser (the compass looking thing), or go to http://localhost:8080 in your browser, and you should see your first “hello word! It is quite reassuring to see it work so smoothly (if indeed it does), and if this is the first time you have coded, trust me they have taken out a hell of allot of pain out of the tedium it can take to get here.

Without getting into the nitty gritty of code just yet, let’s push your baby to production (That means make it live/accessible to the world). That’s right, you are about to push a web application live to production!  First create a new app at the google app engine home page and follow the steps there (setting up your yaml for upload). Your yaml file tells google which app your are updating when you do so. Not making sure your yaml matches your project is like  you sending mail through the USPS without out a “from”/”to” address.

Once complete, press the blue arrow pointing upward (the “deploy” button) and it will deploy (AKA: push to prod, go live.)

Once deployed, you can update, monitor, or even share you application with the world. And all for free. Not that this baby would get allot of attention in its current state (just a “hello world”), but if it did, it would also be scalable. I mean 10 years ago this would have cost you quite a bit of time money, especially if you didnt know allot about server configurations, apache, linux, or windows server, or…well you get the idea.

There are a few sample apps you can play with on the GAE site. If you are ready, start developing some code i Python. Maybe had a hellow world message of your own.

When you start feeling saucy, try and create a model. A model is a data structure you can save, or persist, data to your system. Again to you newbies out there, this is the equivelent of your granfather telling you, “back in my day I had to walk up a hill in the snow to get to work, and up a hill in a blizzard to get back.” Setting up a database on a production server was a skill on its own, but to create one that is scalable, and without the need to architect it is amazing. You see, based on the models you create GAE intuitivley creates your “database”, stores it efficiently, and assumes where indexes need to be placed. You really don’t have to understand any of this, but if you want to you can look up those terms have at it: indexing, database, architecture, MVC…. Like I said, I’m just an old guy complaining about hills.

If you are still a bit timid about getting started, don’t worry there is a baby step in between these tween sized steps that can help you get ramped up before you start churning out lines and lines of code. Click on the “SDK Console” button on the GAE dashboard. It will open up a web page that is running locally, on your stage environment, that gives you windows into your system to hack around with. (This console lives inside your development app, so don’t forget to run your new app to get access to it.) Once in the console, click “Interactive Console”. There you will have a very rudimentary terminal that you can write temporary test scripts in. The output is shown on the right of the screen. This is a great place to get errors, make mistakes, and go nuts! (Note: The SDK Console also houses your development DB, so you can check to see what data you are saving after you have attempted to save it.)

Note: The easiest way to get started as a newbie, in my mind, is by using Python in GAE. Java, although awesome, is a bit more advanced.

I recently used GAE to create a few projects to help out the team. One for TeamCity monitor to view coverage reports and if a build is broken or not. And also one for Pivatol Tracker to help our press and marketing interpret what is coming out of the product pipeline, if its ready, and what are the stories of value within. I will post templates for those projects in the near future.

iPhone Secret Feature

iPhone Undo
iPhone Undo

Lately I have noticed that I get prompted to “undo typing” or cancel my text. I would hurriedly press cancel and after getting the message a few times I started to think something was becoming buggy with my phone or my fat fingers were accidentally pressing some wrong button. The I realized — wait there is no “undo” button/feature on the phone where the hell is it coming from? After some quick research, I found out there is an unpublished “undo” feature on the iPhone after SDK 3.0.

Ready for it…..and….

Activate Undo Text Feature:
After typing on the iPhone, shake the phone to undo what you have typed.

Blogging can help center the mind

Centering The Mind
Centering The Mind

With all the fast paced abstract thoughts that can transpire throughout the modern mans workweek I have found yet another reason to continue blogging. I think it has forced me to take my abstract thoughts, that come and go so quickly and have a tendency to linger and repeat in my consciousness, into constructing full thoughts and letting them pass when a blog is posted. It has forced me to train myself to finish thoughts out and take ideas from a very nebulous form into one that is less so by me needing to focus enough on those thoughts and attempt to put them down on paper in some legible format. The fact that these messages will be public forces me to even further examine my thoughts into legible writings so as to not look too crazy. Man it is so much harder then I thought it would be to translate all the things swirling around in my head as some written topic. I am not a good writer but that wont stop me — My fear of writing poorly is what has probably made me such a bad writer today.

I asked an uncle of mine one day to tell m the top three things he thinks made him successful  and one of his top three things was “always write what your thinking down”. As he explained it,  “it exposes all the holes that your imagination so easily covers up”. So true, I so often propose things verbally and for the most part the propositions work out but since I started catching myself and writing  every small to large idea down, and not just as notes. I mean I stop and draw diagrams or spreadsheets and fill in all the holes that end up revealing themselves as concepts become physical structures on paper. I have found so many mistakes or holes so much earlier then usual as a result.  I have noticed that the ideas seem to evolve a few times before I present them to my peers and allows me to think about more angles since I have a full system to look at in front of me, let my mind wonder around the core of the idea instead of just try to retain the core itself in my head.

For example, this post has been swirling in my head for weeks. Without this new found hobbie of blogging I would probably have to deal with these thoughts conciously or unconsciously and they never would feel complete. You bring it up on conversation and let others know about your perspective on things but its always just a thought. Now i know the thought has been completed and exists in time and space, almost indefinitely; I can now move on completely. This realization gives me a whole new appreciation for writing that was not impressed upon me as a child. I never really saw the point other then emails, letters and books to write well. But man not being able to construct your thoughts into a written form leaves you feeling incomplete. Your legacy, your feelings are all just inside you if you cant express them in some sort of infinite format like the written word. My kids are going to write a page about something everyday while they are under my house and the will thank me for it later….

BTW another great tip for obsessively ideas swirling around in your head…put a white board up in your room or a notepad next to your bed. You may have heard it before but do it if you find yourself going to bed with sleep or tossing and turning. and just expunge every thought weather its good or bad on paper or as graphics on a boar dand you get so much better sleep. Even just having the board or notepad sitting there eases the mind.