All posts filed under “London Life

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Going to California…

Golden Gate Bridge

My wife and I have recently made a big decision.  After over eleven years living in London, we’re moving back to the US… to the San Francisco/Bay Area of California!

Wait… what?!?

If we haven’t caught up with you in a while, my wife started working for Google about a year ago in London.  A few months later, I left Google to join Techstars (but still based in London).  We’ve both been really, really happy in our respective jobs, and the changes have opened up new opportunities for both of us.  At Techstars my role has shifted, and I’m leading a product team building applications and tools to help our founders leverage the Techstars network and “do more faster.”  And at Google, Annie has been kicking ass and been offered an opportunity to transfer within her team for an important role… but one based in California.

But why??

Frankly, it’s great for both of us professionally to make this move.  But it’s not just that, it’s also to be closer to family.  For any of our immediate (or even distant) family to visit us, it takes them 6-10 hours of flying and a substantial amount of cash for the transatlantic flight.  As our daughter grows, we want her family not to be some abstract concept that she sees on the other side of a FaceTime, but people she knows and loves as she grows up.  (We’ve also gotten to be rather jealous of our British friends whose families can help with babysitting far, far easier than ours can!)

There’s a myriad of reasons why we’re doing this, and it’s a bit different for Annie and me.  (They range from more sensible school options to being better able to buy a home for ourselves to seeing our UK friends move to the countryside…)  But we’ve considered them all, and a move to California is what’s best for us right now.

How are you feeling about this?

I’m very excited for the move, but I’m very sad and frankly a little anxious.  

I’m excited for new opportunities (professionally and personally), excited to spend time with old friends that we haven’t spent much time with in years, and excited for new experiences in general.

I’m incredibly sad to be leaving our friends here in London and the UK.  Annie and I have spent the majority of our adult lives in London, and we’re gutted that we’re going to have to say goodbye (at least for now) to our friends.  That said, we’ve committed to ourselves to visit as frequently as we can.  (Probably for Henley every year at least!)  And we’ll certainly be back at some point to live in the UK again.

Finally, I’m anxious because there are a lot of things I’ve never had to deal with in the US… like health insurance!  (Between the Navy and the NHS here in England I’ve been spoiled when it comes to healthcare.)  Frankly, I think I’ll feel like an ex-pat in my own country for quite a while.

When is this happening?

We’re wheels up from the UK at some point in the last couple weeks of March… so less than six weeks away.  (Yikes!)

Whoa… I think I need a drink

And I’d say I agree.  In the selfish interests of seeing as many people before we go, we’re going to have a party on the afternoon of Saturday, March 7th.  Get in touch if you’d like to know more details; we’d love to see you there!  🙂  (A Facebook invite will be going out shortly.)

Finally, I’ll just leave you with this brilliant (and relevant) song from a legendary band…


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Life with my “distraction-free” phone

Earlier this summer I read two posts by Jake Knapp (a design partner at Google Ventures) about his “distraction free” iPhone: how he started it, and what it felt like a year later.  In a nutshell, he found himself getting constantly distracted by his iPhone, and consciously made choices to take key applications off his phone: Safari, Email, Twitter, Instagram, etc.

I decided to try it for myself and my Nexus 5 Android phone.  I didn’t want to be that guy that always had his phone six inches from his face, even when out to dinner or playing with my daughter.  So these are (some of) the apps I deleted from my phone:

  • Chrome
  • Twitter
  • Instagram
  • Kindle
  • NYTimes
  • Google+
  • Facebook

All of these were apps that had a strong risk of the “infinity” effect, where once you get started you just get lost.  I had a particularly bad habit with opening tabs in Chrome (from Twitter, e-mail) that I then left open, always meaning to go back but never actually closing.

Apps I kept include: Calendar, Music, Maps, Camera, Photos, SMS, WhatsApp, Hangouts, USAA, Todo.txt, Voxer, Slack, Beeminder, Runkeeper, and a few others.  The one app where I chose differently from Jake and did keep was Gmail (and now Google Inbox).  E-mail in my job is just too important, and living several time zones away from the majority of the people I work with means that I can’t rely on just dealing with e-mail during the UK business day.

What I’ve learned

I’ve noticed a few things from this experiment.  First, I’ve started to see how critical a web browser is to a mobile phone experience.  Disabling Chrome means that a small number of apps (that aren’t well designed) just don’t work well, if at all.

Second, Google has made Google+ a key layer of infrastructure.  I can’t use the modern, built-in “Photos” app on my mobile because it requires the Google+ app to work. Instead, I use a previous version of the stock Android Gallery app to view my photos.

Third, it’s fascinating to watch human behaviour.  Pulling out a mobile phone, even when out with good friends, has become a reflex for (seemingly) everyone.  The number of times that a conversation over dinner goes down a thread where once person checks their phone (to look something up or Tweet something), and then a second person does, and the next thing I’m looking at a table of people that are all staring at their phones instead of interacting with each other.  I even find myself feeling like I should join in, but then realise I don’t have to stress out about it and can just enjoy the moment… even if no one is paying attention to me or each other! 🙂  I’ve become comfortable with momentary moments of boredom.

Fourth, you have a different relationship to a mobile phone when it’s purely a tool for messaging, navigation, health/fitness and not a tool for broad media consumption and broadcasting.  I liked feeling that I had a less “emotional” tie to my phone.

How I cheat

It’s not like I’m no longer using a web browser, or Twitter, or reading Kindle books, or checking Facebook.  But I decided that I would make my Nexus 7 tablet my “distraction” device.  I have all of those apps there, and so then I make a conscious decision to consume media and be distracted.

Also, when I’ve traveled to the US I’ve had to cheat and re-enable a bunch of apps.  I don’t want to have to buy and use two SIMs, one for my phone and one for my tablet, and I need to have a phone connection when I’m traveling.

Going forward?

I’m definitely going to continue this going forward.  I may re-enable Google+ just so that I can use the full functionality, and because I think I can resist any G+ distractions.  But I like constraining myself to use my mobile phone purely as a tool and not as a magic sinkhole of time.


Screenshot 2014 12 04 11 43 58

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Living and loving live music – thanks to Songkick!

Yesterday I saw The National in concert, and it was absolutely awesome. It was the first of a string of four concerts I’m going to in the next few weeks. I’m seeing The National, Arcade Fire, The New Pornographers (with Neko Case!) and Kings of Leon.

But I would never have known about all of these shows or gotten tickets without Songkick. If you are interested in live music AT ALL, you need to do yourself a favor and register with Songkick TODAY. It takes a minute to register, and another couple of minutes to hook Songkick up to your iTunes library, profile or Pandora profile. Three minutes after starting, you’ll start seeing e-mails from Songkick when the bands that you like are coming to your city… before tickets go on sale.

There are very few sites on the internet I’m truly passionate about, and Songkick is one of them. Otherwise, I would have never been able to see this kick-ass final encore song from The National last night… done completely unplugged in a crowd of 5000 people. Amazing…

Links to specific shows, etc.:
The National last night
Arcade Fire tomorrow night
The New Pornographers next week
Kings of Leon just before Christmas
My profile (you can “track” me to see what concerts I’m going to)
My “gigography”: all the shows I’ve been to since my very first concert in 1994 (Pink Floyd!)

PS – Songkick is a London-based startup, and a Y Combinator startup, so they’ve got a very bright future ahead of them.

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Getting Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK – my experiences

I started working in the UK nearly five years ago on a Highly Skilled Migrant Programme visa. It is/was a fantastic programme. At the time I applied I just needed to show my level of education and what I’d been getting paid; because I was younger than 28 when I applied it was easy to obtain. For the last five years it let me work without any real restrictions in the UK. I was free to change jobs, and even stopped working for a year to get my MBA.

Long story, but I had a year-long window in order to apply for my “Indefinite Leave to Remain” (ILR) visa, which grants both Annie and I to officially be “settled” in the UK. We finally got around to applying for it this month, and because of my travel commitments for work we had to apply in person.

This is that story.

(To be honest it’s pretty boring, but something I wish I could have read before I showed up. I’m posting it for anyone that might be interested in the details of the process)

Booking an appointment online is easy, but not at all straightforward. (Annie and I had to register separately, then she had to send me her code so that I could book an appointment for both of us at the same time.) We could get an appointment within a week or two of when I looked for it online, at least at the Public Enquiry Office in Croydon.

Our appointment was for 3pm, and they tell you to show up 30 minutes early. We arrived about 2:20pm, and spent 30 minutes going through security and standing in a queue to speak to the first person in the process.

For anyone that has to do this for themselves, know this: There is a Border Agency agent who does an initial review of your application before you ever get to the point where you have to pay and then do a formal interview. This person checks your application to make sure it’s complete, reviews the documents that you’ve brought as proof, and checks your current visa. In my case he caught a mistake: when I was granted an extension of my HSMP visa the Home Office had mistakenly entered it as a “work visa” instead of “HSMP visa”. Luckily I had my paperwork from when the extension was granted, which showed that it was their screw-up and not mine. (Lesson: bring all of the documents that you’ve received from the Border Agency / Home Office, whether they’ve asked for them or not.)

Only after that review do you have to go and pay. That queue took another 15 minutes or so. You might want to give your bank a heads up that you’ll be making a big charge; I had to do a phone verification with my bank. (At this point you still aren’t guaranteed of getting your visa, as about a hundred signs tell you.)

The next wait was a big one; in our case from 3:15 to 4:20pm. There was just a big room with rather uncomfortable rows of immovable chairs. (It looked/felt a bit like prison furniture, perhaps because of problems with people getting angry in the past?) The other big feature was about a thousand screaming children running around everywhere. It was difficult to concentrate on my book. There are a couple of Coca-Cola vending machines and a very small snack shop available in the building while you wait.

The original 3pm slot that I booked must have been one of the last of the day. We were finally seen my a Border Agent around 4:20pm, and because our application was very straightforward we were all done at 4:40 when she told us that we had been granted our ILR visas!

As you might expect, the final wait was a long one as they actually created the visas and put them in our passports. They quote an hour and a half, but ours were ready by 17:45. (Another wait in the prison furniture room with the screaming children.) We received our passports with our shiny new full-page visa stickers/stamps, and letters detailing our new status and what it means.


This is just our story; your mileage may vary. Our visa application was very straightforward, and I’m sure they can get pretty complicated pretty quickly. If this is at all helpful or useful to someone that’s about to do the same thing, please let me know by commenting below!