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Social Media and it’s effect on emotional outlook

August 25th, 2013 No comments

This morning, Ian sent me this article from The Economist - Facebook is bad for you. Get a life!. Its timing is interesting as I have just completed a 1 month experiment with my own emotional state by removing social media entirely from my life.

I have been struggling with emotional problems for a while now, culminating most recently in a severe episode that left me barely able to get out of bed in the mornings. I felt utterly overwhelmed, and I would often feel as if I was struggling to breathe, almost suffocating. I am very introspective person, and when I have had emotional problems in the past, I have easily been able to diagnose the cause and make changes that have resulted in a change for the positive. This time, however, I was left at a loss as to the cause and that added to the misery as for the first time I had no idea what to do to change things around.

So I embarked on a series of experiments. I had my contraceptive implant removed, in case the mood changes were hormonal. I pulled out of all my upcoming speaking gigs, abandoned all my personal projects and pulled out of events that I had agreed to attend or contribute to. I reduced my life to the bare minimum, work and home, and even though these things helped, I would often end the day emotionally drained, irritable and miserable.

Around this time, Twitter was going through another of its periods of TwitStorms. Everyone in my feed was talking about gender discrimination, rape threats and injustice and I noticed that after reading my feed, I would feel worse than I did before. I realised that this feeling was common. I would reach for Twitter almost as a compulsion and come away feeling emptier. By returning again and again through the day, I was compounding that effect.

So I decided to quit social media for a month, just to see what would happen. I expected a slight difference, but didn’t really think it would have that much of an effect. I was wrong.

Within one week without social media it was if the sky had finally opened up and there was sunshine again. I smiled and laughed unprompted. I felt lighter, as if the weight that had been dragging me down all these months had lessened. But maybe it was just the novelty value, perhaps when I had got used to it, the darker feelings would return. I continued for the rest of the month.

Now, at the end, the experience has been a revalation. I have made greater progress in returning to what I consider to be “myself” in the last month than in the previous six. In retrospect, I realise that I had been judging myself daily through the eyes of the 1400 or so people who follow me on Twitter. I was permanently “on”, networking even when I was socialising, evaluating every tweet to see if it gave the right impression. I needed to connect with my friends, impress my peers, appear professional to my colleagues and potential employers and maintain the reputation that I had.

This led to the placement of great significance on certain tweets, which if they did not receive the desired response, would lead to feelings of inadequacy, loneliness and insecurity. This pressure I place upon myself on behalf of others, added to the stream of bad news, argument and invective that forms a significant part of my Twitter stream these days, and it’s no wonder I was having troubles. Removing myself from that world stopped all that.

I have decided to return to Twitter, but on very different terms. I have removed from my feed everyone with whome I do not have a personal relationship and moved them to themed lists which I will browse using Flipboard, like a curated themed magazine where I can keep up with the latest news in my field. Twitter will become what it once was to me, a purely social forum where I connect with what my friends are up to.

I will give this new way of interacting with Twitter another month, and again monitor it’s effect. If I notice a decline in my mood again, then I am afraid the game is up for my use of the service, at least until I feel I am back in a good place again.

And if you too feel like social media is draining your mood, maybe you should try having a break from it and seeing what effect it has on you.

Categories: Personal Tags:

Travel Questions for our Honeymoon

February 19th, 2013 2 comments

So, we’re planning our honeymoon. We’re hoping to travel from London, where we live, to Istanbul, where Ian proposed, in a one month long jaunt.

We’ve currently come up with a loose plan of where we want to go but we’re asking for some help with working out how to get places and for some recommendations on what we should do when we get there.

Also, if anyone has any good travel resources to share with us regarding overland travel through Europe we’d be very glad of it. We’re already aware of, and avid users of, The Man in Seat 61.

We’ve created a map of all of the castles along the route, as well as where our main target cities are. I’ve publicly shared it, so feel free to add suggestions or simply use it to get your bearings.

We’ve got no more than 3 days in each country if we’re going to make it all the way to Istanbul in our allotted month.

If you need some guidance about whether to suggest an activity, these are probably some good interest points to light your way

  • We love castles
  • We love walking
  • We love history
  • We love science
  • We love nature
  • We love technology
  • We love food
  • We love wine
  • We love beer

If your suggested falls into one of these interest points, it’s definitely worth suggesting. If it doesn’t, it’s probably suggesting anyway as we’re a fairly adventurous couple.

France
Paris
Lyon

Switzerland
Lake Geneva
Zurich
CERN
Chillon Castle
Anything else worth going to see in Switzerland on our way through?

Lichtenstein
Is there anything worth going to see here?

Germany
Neuschwanstein Castle
Lichtenstein Castle
Munich
What other Bavarian Castles are there worth going to see?
Are there any other cities worth seeing while we are in the area?

Austria
Vienna
What else is in Austria that is worth going to see?

Slovakia
Bratislava
What’s good in Slovakia?
What’s the best way of getting around?

Hungary
Budapest
Mor
Tokaj
Lake Balaton

Romania
Bucharest
Peles Castle
Corvinesti Castle
Bran Castle
Which other castles are worth visiting?
We’ve heard that getting around may be hard. What are the best options?

Bulgaria
Sofia
We’ve heard that getting around may be hard. What are the best options?
What else is worth going to see in Bulgaria?

Turkey
Istanbul

Categories: Personal Tags: , , ,

Discovering London with one new thing a week

November 25th, 2012 No comments

The last year for me has been a roller coaster ride of discovery and adventure. I have experienced so many new places and done so many new things that I have felt my life, and thereby myself, far richer for it. Returning to the UK therefore held a degree of trepidation for me. Will, by returning home, my life just return to the way it was before? Was the last year of my life to turn into a mere spike of interest in an otherwise unremarkable existence?

In thinking these thoughts it occurred to me that the only way this could happen would be if I were to let it. If I chose to return home to Brighton, pick up my freelancing career and generally continue where I left off then it would be something I would forever regret. Discussions with Ian led to us deciding to move to a new city, London, and for me to decide to return to full time work, but for an exciting startup, onefinestay.

And yet, even after that, I started to worry that, once settled, I would stagnate once again. I therefore decided that in order to encourage imagination, aid exploration of my new hometown and generally just to make life interesting, I would endeavour to do one new thing a week from here on.

That may be visiting a new place, attending a new event ( and by that I mean something outside of the kind if events I usually attend) or to try a new hobby. I shall be blogging about these new things both here and on a tumblr site I have set up, fluffzaldvisits.tumblr.com.

With that in mind, if anyone has anything that they feel I should try, or would like me to try and report back, feel free to post it either here or on the tumblr site.

Categories: Personal Tags:

What Next?

October 2nd, 2012 No comments

You may have noticed that I’ve been rather quiet on the Tiny Ears front recently. There is a reason for this, and here it is.

It’s absolutely insane to try and do an incredibly high tech startup, on your own, unless you’ve had loads of experience doing startups before.

I haven’t and it nearly broke me.

I shall write more in a few days about what happened with Tiny Ears and the lessons I learned, but I wanted to first announce the exciting thing I shall be doing next.

Starting later this month, I shall be going to work for a lovely London based startup, onefinestay as their mobile developer. onefinestay have lots of interesting problems to be solved using mobile technologies and a bright, dynamic group of developers that I am excited to be working with. I am looking forward to returning to the UK in a few weeks when Ian and I shall start looking for a place to live in London.

Tiny Ears is not a dead project. I have simply moved it to a side project and will continue to look around for people I can collaborate with and technologies I can use that will help bring the project to reality.

It’s been an absolutely fabulous 10 months traveling the world, being a part of Startup Chile and running a startup. I have learned so much, and have fallen in love with the startup world.  I am keen to continue working with startups in the future, and who knows, maybe I’ll even give it a go again myself one day. Right now I am happy that my role is helping another startup achieve it’s goals, and I feel that my recent experience has made me even better qualified to do that.

Categories: All Tags:

Chile in Summary

July 6th, 2012 No comments

This Sunday Ian and I are leaving Santiago to go and spend 3 weeks in Buenos Aires in Argentina. We return to Chile for only 10 days before we leave for 2 months in San Francisco. I just thought I would write a quick post about the things that I will and will not miss, and the things I wish I had done. I’ll probably keep updating this as I think of things, but this is what springs immediately to mind.

Things I will miss

  • SUP staff
  • SUP participants
  • Cheap, awesome wine
  • Cero San Cristobel
  • The summer weather
  • Lots of easily accesible running tracks with exercise machines
  • The Jewel of India
  • Watching sunsets over Cerro San Cristobel from our living room
  • Jazz at Thelonius
  • Salsa taught by Ben

Things I will not miss

  • The dogs
  • The car alarms
  • the winter weather
  • the lack of heating in winter
  • the lack of air conditioning in summer
  • the smog
  • having to talk Spanish every day
  • the food
  • Coming home from the pub stinking of cigarettes.

Things I wish I’d done

  • Visited Puerto Varas, Temuco and Pucón
  • Visited Atacama
  • Learned more Spanish
  • Spent more time in Viña del Mar
  • Spent more time at the Santiago Makerspace
Categories: Personal, Startup Chile Tags:

Playing movies with an alpha channel on the iPad

May 16th, 2012 21 comments

We hit a snag the other day with the development of Tiny Ears. Our strategy to save space on the animation in each storybook was to create lightweight movies to play at the appropriate moment, rather than to have to implement large quantities of frame animation with all of the assets involved (including now retina support with the new iPad). To save further space we decided that we would like to animate only those things that moved by creating a video animation with an alpha channel to make the background visible through the video.

Problem was, when it came to implementing this strategy on the device itself, the transparent .mov file renders with a black background. Why? AVPlayer and MPMoviePlayer  do not have alpha channel support. Desperate not to have to change our strategy and recreate our animations complete with background or return to frame animation I spent some time researching a possible solution on the Internet. After 1 day of looking the best I had come up with was a solution suggesting we use OpenGL to sample the video as it played and turn certain colours transparent I was ready to give it up for lost.

Then, at last, I came across AVAnimator. Hidden in the depths of Google lay this single page site detailing this wonderful library that seems to do pretty much everything that you would want to do with movies in iOS but can’t. There is little documentation and that single page is the only information that exists, but it was enough. Here was a native movie player for iOS with alpha channel support (and a lot more besides but we won’t go into that now).

The code itself was really simple to implement, but in order to play the movies you have to do a little bit of transformation first to turn them into the .mvid format that AVAnimator requires. The tools you need are qtexportani and QTFileParser.

Unpack qtexportani. Open a terminal in that location and type the following:

./qtexportani <name>.mov

This will create you a file in the same directory called export_<name>.mov.

Now unzip QTFile112.zip. Go into QTFileParser and open the XCode project. Build & archive the app and select Distribute. Select Save Built Products and choose somewhere to save it. Then, with the terminal in the same location as the app you just built, run the following command:

./qtaniframes -mvid export_<name>.mov

This will save you a file called export_<name>.mvid.

At this point, don’t be afraid of the fact that your new .mvid file is substantially larger than the original .mov. We’re gonna 7Zip it to make it nice and small. The nice thing about AVAnimator is that you can 7Zip all of your .mvid media into one archive and use that in your app, making all of your media have a delightfully small footprint. I’m not gonna tell you how to 7Zip your files – you’re geeks you should be able to handle that on your own. But at the end of it you should have something like <name>.7z that contains all of your mvid media.

Now comes the fun bit. From the AVAnimator site I could not find just the source file download, but you can grab it by downloading any of the links from their website. I grabbed StreetFighter cos that was the example app that did exactly what I wanted.

So, in your xcodeproj, import all of the files in the AVAnimator folder that you will find in your downloaded project. You will also need to import all the files inside the folder called LZMASDK. In the UIViewController where you want to play your animation then add the following code:
// create the animator view

AVAnimatorView *animationView = [AVAnimatorView aVAnimatorViewWithFrame:CGRectMake(0,0,1024,768)];

// create a new object to store your media in

AVAnimatorMedia *media = [AVAnimatorMedia aVAnimatorMedia];

// Create a 7Zip resource loader

AV7zAppResourceLoader *resLoader = [AV7zAppResourceLoader aV7zAppResourceLoader];

// tell the resource loader what the name of your 7Zip archive is, and the name of the media file inside it you want to play

resLoader.archiveFilename = @”media.7z”;

resLoader.movieFilename = @”export_video.mvid”;

resLoader.outPath = [AVFileUtil getTmpDirPath:animationFilename];

// tell the media holder which resource loader to use

media.resourceLoader = resLoader;

// Create decoder that will generate frames from Quicktime Animation encoded data

AVMvidFrameDecoder *frameDecoder = [AVMvidFrameDecoder aVMvidFrameDecoder];

media.frameDecoder = frameDecoder;

media.animatorFrameDuration = AVAnimator30FPS;      // this is a constant I made for the frame rate

[media prepareToAnimate];

// request to be notified when the movie is played

[[NSNotificationCenter defaultCenter] addObserver:self

selector:@selector(animatorDoneNotification:)

name:AVAnimatorDoneNotification

object:media];

// you have to add the AVAnimatorView to the superview before you can attach the AVAnimatorMedia

[self.view addSubview:animationView];

[animationView attachMedia:media];

// play the movie

[media startAnimator];
And that’s it. Everything to you need to play a movie animation while preserving the alpha channel creating a transparent animation. In a few short lines of code. Thank you AVAnimator, you wonderful thing you. It’s astounding that more people don’t know you exist.

My first reimbursement process – An Assessment

March 20th, 2012 8 comments

I finally received my first reimbursement payment on Tuesday. I’d  decided to leave off blogging about this until I’d actually got the money. I had no idea at the time that meant I’d end up writing this post over 1 month later.

I set aside a whole day to get together the documentation for our first reimbursement. For the first one, you have to provide a bunch of extra documentation, such as rental contracts and photocopies of your RUT. There is 1 spreadsheet that you need to complete with 2 tabs, one to document your involvement in RVA and the other to show your expenses. For each row in your expenses you need to fill out the following:

  1. Recipient
  2. Category
  3. sub category
  4. description –  a full description of the item
  5. currency – the currency that it was originally purchased in
  6. cost – the amount in the original purchase currency
  7. exchange rate – the exchange rate between original currency and Chilean Pesos on the day of purchase
  8. document number – the number assigned to the supporting documentation

For each row in the spreadsheet you must supply the invoice or receipt for the item. If you paid cash outside of Chile then the receipt must clearly state what the purchased item was, the amount and that it was paid cash. Inside of Chile then cash receipts must also contain your name and your RUT number.

If the item was paid by direct bank transfer or debit card then the receipt must contain your name. Remember that the CORFO contract is with you, the individual, and not your company so receipts with your company name on only will not be valid. You must also provide proof that the money left your account, so a bank statement showing the same entry is also required. If you’ve made a purchase in Chile, again remember to have your RUT number placed on the invoice or receipt.

If you have paid by credit card you must supply, along with the receipt or invoice, a copy of your credit card statement showing the purchase, PLUS proof that you have paid off the credit card debt. This means a statement showing the card paid. At this point it is worth noting that proof that you have paid the minimum payment is not enough. There have been reports of credit card payments being refused because the whole outstanding amount of the card has not been cleared, therefore it could be argued that you have not actually yet paid for the item you are claiming.

The reason why these proofs are required is, as mentioned before, proof that you are being reimbursed only for stuff that you actually have paid for. This means that items you have purchased but may not yet have utilised, i.e. flights, conference tickets, hotel rooms, cannot be claimed until after they have been used. This is so that they do not reimburse you for something like a flight that you then cancel and get a refund for.

After I had got my documentation together and filled out the spreadsheet I had to send it to my account manager, Konrad. I had to get it to him at least 24 hours before the appointment we had made in order to go through the documentation. In this meeting I took Konrad through the spreadsheet and documentation and he checked it to make sure it was OK. He also asked me about how my business was going, what I had been doing for RVA and generally checked up that I was actually working and not pissing my grant away. He gave me some things to clarify, I went away and fixed them, then he signed the spreadsheet off and  I sent it to the reimbursement people.

10 days later I received an email stating that they were going to reject 85% of my reimbursement. I was very grumpy. A meeting was made between me, Konrad and the reimbursement manager for the next day and I had 24 hours to get my stuff together.

It turns out that if you have a business account and the statements for that business account do not contain your name, only your company name, even if that company name is the same as the one you are in Chile running they will not accept it as proof unless you can also prove that you own that bank account. Initially I thought that a copy of the confirmation letter from my bank thanking me for opening the account would be enough, but it turns out that it is not. Eventually I ended up having to provide copies of my letters of incorporation stating that I was the sole director, plus a letter from my bank stating that I was the signatory of the account before they would accept any payments that I had made out of Radical Robot’s bank account. I was not best pleased.

However having provided these proofs and after explaining a few of the complexities of what I was reclaiming, I got approved for 95% of my claim. I went away happy being told that I would receive an email confirmation and repayment within 5 days.

8 days later I wrote and mentioned that I had received neither confirmation letter nor payment. I received no answer.

10 days later Ian wrote and asked where his reimbursement payment was.

4 days later Ian received a reply saying that they didn’t know.

1 day later Ian got his payment.

4 days later I got my payment.

I never received confirmation of exactly how much the reimbursement was or when it would be sent.

But, I did get my money in the end. It was not as much as I had hoped, but it covered almost everything I claimed for. I learned a lot and feel I am in a better position for my next meeting. Tips I have for anyone going through reimbursement are:

  1. Always provide more proof of purchase than you think you’ll need. You can never have too much
  2. Don’t rely upon anyone applying common sense to the process. Mark everything as clearly as possible and write detailed descriptions if you think it’s confusing.
  3. The reimbursement guys speak no English. Do not rely upon them bothering to translate your invoice in order to find out what’s going on. You may need to find a friendly Spanish speaker to do some translation on anything that is not obvious
  4. NEVER EVER give over original copies of anything. Always provide photocopies. You will never receive anything back and if they lose something and you no longer have the original you’re screwed.
  5. Do not rely on anyone reading anything, including emails.
  6. Unless you have something confirmed in writing, do not assume that they have not forgotten about it.
  7. If you hear nothing for ages, pester, pester, pester.
  8. Put your name on absolutely everything. And your RUT if it relates to something bought in Chile. If buying something in a shop, ask the cashier for a Factura and hand your RUT card over. They should be able to sort you out, even if it takes a while (about 20 mins in Falabella from memory).
  9. Anything that is rejected due to lack of proper documentation can be reclaimed in a later reimbursement if you have subsequently found the required documentation.

Education Tribe

February 28th, 2012 No comments

Here at Startup Chile there is a concept called a Tribe. These tribes are groups formed around general concepts, like Education, Software Technology, Enterprise Software, Finance etc. The idea of the tribe is to provide support, connections and events to assist people whose companies are based around those general concepts. Every Tribe has a leader and every 3 months the group votes for a new leader. You get 1000 RVA points for being a tribe leader. I belong to the Education Tribe.

A few weeks ago the voting happened, and I put my name forward to become Education Tribe leader. Low and behold, I was voted in and am now in a position of power.  Little do they know what they’ve let themselves in for. Mwahahahah.

So now, I have responsibility. I have to organise meetings once a month with the tribe and have set myself a number of tasks that I must complete before the end of the 3 months is up. There are also an extra 500 RVA points up for grabs for the most successful tribe leader. Not sure if I have the time to compete for that one, but the intention is there.

So, the three things that I promised to do for the tribe are as follows:

  1. Create a stronger sense of community with better connections between members for free sharing of ideas and support
  2. To run events to make it easier for the local education community to hear about the startups in the education tribe
  3. To create a directory of educational institutions that wish to work with Startup Chile members.

To put all of this in motion, today I wrote to UNESCO here in Chile asking if they would be interested in meeting and talking to some of the Startup Chile education companies. I am also writing to a number of the Spanish language schools to see if they would like to form partnerships with the language learning Startups. I am hoping to run an event that will showcase the companies to the local education community and potential investors in education technology. I’m hoping I’ve not bitten off more than I can chew!

Mobile Phones

February 21st, 2012 2 comments

At last we have Chilean SIM cards. This took a longer than expected. Here is everything we know about acquiring a Chilean SIM card.

  • You can buy, from the moment you get here, prepaid SIM cards without having to have a RUT number (Chilean ID). These SIM’s DO have data, contrary to what many people may tell you. We were told a number of things, such as you needed your genuine RUT, not temporary RUT to get a SIM, that you can get prepaid calls only but no data without a RUT and that you can just walk into any store and pick up a prepaid SIM anytime you want. As far as we can tell, it’s the latter that’s true.
  • To get a SIM on contract you need to have a Chilean bank account. This is so that you can pay the monthly fee online. They cannot set up a direct debit. This is apparently unsafe. You have to remember to log in to the website, get your bill and pay it every month.
  • Movistar are the only mobile provider that gives short term contract lengths. Ours is for 6 months. They also have ‘special’ packages for Startup Chile members. However Movistar are not always the cheapest or most reliable network so many people have gone for other networks despite the longer contract lengths.
  • Once you get your Chilean bank account, and you want to go with Movistar, you have to arrange a time to meet with the Movistar representative. The first name we got given was for a guy who was on holiday, and even when he returned he told us he was the wrong person. We then talked to the right person who gave us incorrect information as to when she would be at CMI to open the contracts. Eventually we coordinated the right person on the right day in the right place, and we got our SIM’s within half an hour. It’s easy when you know how.
  • To get your SIM card contract you need the following items, a photocopy of your passport, a photocopy of your Chilean ID, a photocopy of a blank cheque from the chequebook for the account you are paying the subscription from and CLP$3990.00 cash.
  • If you have an iPhone, after inserting your new SIM, you must reset all your settings before you can make & receive calls outside of the Movistar network.
  • 1 week after receiving our SIM’s Ian still cannot receive texts of phonecalls from outside Chile, although he can make international calls/texts. No resolution in sight at this time.
  • For both my mini-SIM and Ian’s SIM, we cannot get more than an edge connection on our Androids. At this time we are not sure why, but we think it has something to do with the frequency of the Movistar mobile signal being incompatible with our UK Android devices, i.e. 850Mhz. Again, no solution in sight at this time, but I shall update this post when/if we have an answer.

La Escuela de Español

February 21st, 2012 No comments

Last week I took the plunge and signed up for an intensive Spanish language course at Escuela Bellavista. Since I arrived I have been listening to the Michel Thomas Spanish Audiobooks, hoping that this would be enough to get me by. In recent weeks it has become apparent that it is not enough. This is for two reasons. The first is time. Oddly, finding 1 hour a day to take out to listen to an audiobook is very hard. It’s always pushed to the bottom of the list of important things that need to be done and then, when you finally have time, it’s the end of the day and you’re too tired to learn. Secondly, although the audiobooks are really fantastic at teaching grammar, they do not give you the two most important things for learning a new language, practice and decent vocabulary. Oh, and more practice.

So, off I trotted. The intensive classes are 4 hours a day, every week day, from 10am to 1:30pm. No English is spoken during the lessons, and there are a number of after school activities that you can sign up for if you have the time. The course is, as it says on the tin, intensive. On day one I was convinced that I was in the wrong class and asked to be brought down a class. The teachers refused saying I was good enough for the level I was in (basic 1b) and, as the week went on, I started to agree with them. On day 2 I was less confused, day 3 I started to understand a lot, day 4 I understood everything and by day 5 I felt we were going too slowly! My Spanish improved so much during the week that I signed up for a second week. In fact, on Friday when Ian and I went wine tasting, not only was I confident enough to conduct whole conversations in Spanish, I understood an awful lot that the Spanish speaking somellier was telling us (although not enough to translate confidently for Ian!). This week I was promoted to basic 2a, for which I was proud.

If you’re coming to Startup Chile and you want to learn Spanish I suggest that you do so within your first month. For all the progress that I have been making in my Spanish, I have been struggling to get everything that needs to be done for Tiny Ears completed within the remaining time. Intensive language courses are exhausting, and trying to do an 8 hour work day after a 4 hour Spanish class is enough to wreck anyone’s head. Within the first month, while you are still getting your feet under you, is I think the best time for this. Once you settle in to your projects it becomes a lot harder to fit the Spanish classes in, and this week I have been finding it more difficult to concentrate on the classes knowing that there is so much work left to do.

But I am also getting a lot out of being able to speak Spanish. I am making some friends with some of the Spanish students and I am far less stressed when we have to take a taxi, eat in a restaurant, go shopping or basically do anything that involves interaction with non-English speakers. And believe me, not many Chileans speak English so having some handy Spanish skills is a definite plus.

After this week I will stop the Spanish classes, but I shall be attending the engliSH spaniSH meetUP that runs here every Tuesday evening so I keep practicing my newfound Spanish skills.

Categories: Personal, Startup Chile Tags: