Category Archives: Personal

Another New Beginning

Wow, it looks like it’s been about 3.5 years since I last wrote a blog post. And, in fact, the last post I wrote was also about a big life event. Maybe that’s what this blog is for, documenting every time my life moves in a different direction.

Anyway, today’s news is that I have made a work related change that sees me move away from mobile after 6 years and towards something new.

I moved into mobile after 8 years of working almost exclusively deep in the background of applications. I became weary of working on software that no one ever realised they were using and wanted to get into something that allowed me to see the pleasure of peoples faces when they used something I made. I chose mobile because alongside allowing me to learn about user interface development and building products, I was able to utilise my existing multi-threaded, networking and database experience to good effect.

There was another reason I chose to make the move when I did. At the time, I was experiencing month 12 of a seemingly never ending crunch period at the company I was working in. You know the ones, every release is going to be the end of crunch, but somehow several weeks later you’re still there, with no end to the cycle in sight. Fundamentally, it broke me. I didn’t realise it at the time – that took about 4 years – and I thought all I needed was a fresh start. Something new to get my teeth into. So I quit my job, taught myself Android and iOS development and set out on my new life as a mobile freelancer.

4 years later, with one failed startup, a move back to permanent employment and a whole bunch of bad jobs choices behind me, I was finally diagnosed with depression, got some treatment and started on the long road back to me. I hadn’t even realised I had lost me for most of that time. Finding my way back was tough, but I did it.

Starting working in the mobile team at Mozilla played a huge part in that process. It came at a time when I had recovered enough to remember what being confident professionally, and personally, felt like. But I needed a safe space to  finish the journey. I knew that it wouldn’t take much to send me hurtling back down into that pit, but I also needed to feel like I was doing something beneficial and useful.

My team at Mozilla is awesome. In 15 years in this industry, I have only rarely worked with a bunch of people for whom I have had this much respect and also liked this much. Firefox for iOS is a great product to work on and the flexible remote working structures of the organisation helped massively in allowing me to control my time and my work life balance. I was able to concentrate more on my hobbies and still feel fulfilled during working hours.

And the team was supportive and welcoming and inclusive. I gradually learned that I could speak my mind without fear. That my opinions mattered, as did everyone’s. That no question was stupid. I could not have asked for a more perfect place to be when putting myself back together again.

However, after 2 years on the mobile team, it became clear to me that, as I recovered, I was demanding more from the work that I was doing. As my confidence increased, I realised that I was still protecting myself. And part of that was my continued work in mobile. I have been doing mobile for 6 years. It has done me well in that time, but I started down the mobile road at the same time as my depression started. I was depressed for the vast majority of my time in mobile. I needed a different challenge. One that was new. One that had no stain on it, and one that would force me to move out of the protectionist habits that I had gotten into during my recovery. I needed to scare the living crap out of myself and see if I survived.

So, I asked around. My primary goal was to remain at Mozilla. To be completely honest, I cannot imagine wanting to work for another organisation.  So I inquired about possibilities of moving to a new team inside Mozilla.

It was a hard decision. The mobile team is so great that I didn’t really want to leave them, but my desire to grow technically and challenge myself was greater. I found another team, the Browser Futures Group, and they were happy to take me. And so I moved. That was 6 weeks ago.

So, I now do something pretty different. I am learning Rust. I haven’t touched Xcode for nearly 5 weeks. I am working on a new embedded knowledge store called Mentat. I am certainly getting what I wanted. It’s hard. But it’s also rewarding and fun.

And despite some pretty challenging moments, there has been no sign of the darkness returning. My new team is pretty great too. I’m the stupidest person in the room – but in the right way. I am learning so much every day. And I continue to enjoy the kind of support that I have had since joining this company. I am really happy with my decision, and I am very happy that Mozilla has allowed me to make a significant career change without me having to find a new org to make that change to.

So, thank you Mozilla Mobile team for being awesome. And hello Browser Futures.

Social Media and it’s effect on emotional outlook

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.

Travel Questions for our Honeymoon

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.


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

Is there anything worth going to see here?

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

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

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

Lake Balaton

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?

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


Discovering London with one new thing a week

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,

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.

Chile in Summary

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

Mobile Phones

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

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.

Obtaining your Chilean ID

Yesterday we were taken by the Startup Chile staff to get our temporary Chilean ID’s. Your Chilean ID is very important to your stay here because without this you cannot get a bank account (& therefore cannot be refunded your money), a mobile phone contract (for which you also need a bank account) or get a PAYG Data SIM (you can get data free SIM’s though). It is therefore important that you get this done as soon as you possibly can before you arrive. Little did we know that if we had gone to the SUP offices as soon as we arrived we could have done this earlier, but you live and learn.

Before we arrived in Chile we were asked to sign up to a list for whether we wanted to get our ID’s on the Monday or the Tuesday. Our batch has over 200 people in it, so this was a good idea to get the numbers down. I recommend you try and get in to the Monday group. For us, Banco Edwards came to sign up people for bank accounts on Tuesday afternoon while the remaining entrepreneurs went to get their ID cards. By being in the Monday group it was quicker and easier to set up a bank account as there were less people trying to do the same thing at the same time.

So, Monday was induction day 1. At the end of the morning induction talks, and after lunch, we all met at SUP’s Moneda office to get our Chilean ID’s. After our passports & residency visas had been photocopied, we were taken back out of the offices in 2 groups. Obtaining your ID is a very long process so I highly recommend that you get yourself into the first group to leave. We were then shepherded down to the Chilean Police offices where we showed our visas and passports, paid 800 pesos and were awarded a Chilean International Police Check certificate.

With our police check certificates in hand we traipsed en-masse to a photocopy shop where we paid 50 pesos for a photocopy of the police check certificate. We were then led to the Civil Registry office to get our temporary ID’s. At this point, get yourself to the front of the group. We hung around at the back, and by the time we realised we had to put our names a sheet of paper to denote the order in which we were seen it was too late and we ended up 21st, 22nd & 23rd on the list – of about 30 names! You then get to hang about watching the other people head in and out of the office getting their ID’s ahead of you.

At this point it became pointedly clear that if things continued in this manner then the end of the list would not be reached for about 1.5 hours and there was still the second group yet to turn up. The strategy changed and we were then asked to provide our parents names on our passport photocopy and give it to Catalina, who filled in a form on your behalf. When our turn came (it was going much faster now) we took our forms in and got fingerprinted, both hands, on the back side of the form.

We were then asked to leave the room and wait. DO NOT JUST SIT DOWN AND WAIT TO BE CALLED AGAIN. This is what we did and after a while asked how much longer it was going to be. It turns out that what they really meant was wait in a queue to be called back in to have your form processed and photograph taken. Luckily we found this out after only a further 10 minute wait. For some people the word did not get through for some time and they ended up waiting to be called for up to an hour.

After your form has been processed and your photo taken & everything stamped, you have to pay 4,050 pesos and get given your temporary Chilean ID. We were asked to return to the Civil Registry office about a week later to pick up the real thing. One thing about all of the payments throughout this process – they really do not like giving change. Try as much as possible to give the exact money. At the police station especially they refused to take anything other than exact change which caused a few problems for some people.

We started the ID process at 2pm. We finished at 5:30pm. This will eat up your whole afternoon, so don’t book anything else that day. However, the ID process really seemed to bond many of the Startups and we ended up with a party to go to that evening and there was plenty of time to get to know our fellow participants.

More about the Startup Chile induction process to come, but for now I shall leave you as a legal entity in Chilean society.

Hemos llegado en Chile (We have arrived in Chile)

So, we have arrived in Chile. First impressions? Santiago is lovely. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but I think it was a cramped, crowded city with everyone living in skyscrapers and choking on car fumes. What we found was a leafy, spacious city populated by friendly, open, smiling people.

Most of our problems so far seem to stem from language issues. The continental Spanish we learned before we came here has not helped us with the local dialect, Chileno, or with the speed issues. However, yesterday I partook in my first ‘language exchange’ with my madrina Johanna and her friend Jenny and I discovered that when the pace is slowed down I can understand and speak far more than I thought.

We arrived on Wednesday after an 18 hour flight from Heathrow to Santiago via Sao Paulo. We payed over the odds for the taxi bus that took us from the airport to our apartments, but while Ian was busy negotiating, Kyran and I were so tired that we were willing to pay anything just to get to where we were going. We were told the taxi should be about £20-£30. I think we payed £45 in the end.

Our apartment is lovely. Situated on the leafy street of El Vergel in the quiet, trendy suburb of Providencia we’ve basically moved to the Hove of Santiago. We are about a 15 minute walk from Kyran’s flat in Ricardo Lyon and 20-25 minutes from Los Leones, our closest metro station on the main line. There are cafe’s, shops & supermarkets within a few minutes walk of the flat and yesterday we discovered a fantastic running track that goes for kilometres down the main streets of Tobablaba and Pocuro. From asking around we appear to be paying quite a bit for our place, but everyone agrees that the location & the fact that it is fully furnished makes it well worth the price.

We have met lots of lovely people since arriving. Much of that is due to how lucky we have been with our respective padrino’s who have been very welcoming. Johanna met us on Thursday morning and took us on a tour of the city. She also arranged a dinner our for us with Strong Steam‘s padrino Fernando at a lovely restaurant, Como Agua Para Chocolate. I met Johanna again on Saturday afternoon to discuss Tiny Ears, and towards the end of the meeting she had invited along Jenny, her best friend who spoke little English (although far more than I spoke Spanish), and we had a small language exchange as I tried to talk (badly) to Jenny in Spanish. Later Saturday night we had been invited to Fernando’s apartment for dinner. From talking to other SUPpers we have already had more contact with our padrino’s that many have had with theirs for 6 months!

We also were fortunate to have friends here already and seeing Jon and Anna again has been great. They met us at our apartment on Wednesday with a bag of cold beers and then took us out into Providencia to dinner that evening. They also accompanied us on the tour of Santiago and to Fernando’s on Saturday night.

I am also fortunate to have Ian who researched all the companies on phase 1 as well as phase and contacted the ones who sounded interesting before we left. Therefore on Friday night we ended up invited to 2 parties by outgoing SUPpers and met some truly lovely people including Fernando Mejia from SQMOS.

All in all, our first few days here have been fantastic. We have fallen in love with Santiago and are really looking forward to the Startup Chile program starting tomorrow.


As a side note, I’m posting all my photos from my trip here on Flickr if you’re interested at all in seeing them. Ian is also blogging about our time here

A Guide for my Friends: Things I Won’t Eat

It turns out that I’m quite a fussy eater, although I think I eat quite a lot of things. In order to assist my friends whenever they cook for me I thought I would write a list of things that I won’t eat.

I want to make clear that I am very texture driven with foods and the 90% of the things I won’t eat are down to texture. In many cases, excluding pulses & peas, if you were to liquidise these things I would eat them happily.

This may not be a definitive list, but it’s all I can think of for now.

Things I won’t touch

  • Bananas
  • Pulses of any kind (beans, chickpea’s etc)
  • Cucumber
  • Celery
  • Peas
  • Squashes (pumpkin, butternut etc)
  • Beetroot
  • Brussel Sprouts
  • Chicory (and anything else that has an aniseed flavour)
  • Peaches
  • Kiwi fruit
  • Turnip
  • Parsnip
Things that I’d rather not have to eat
  • Seafood/Fish
  • nuts
  • Radish
  • Lentils


***Update: Since I started my worldwide travels I can amend this list slightly. It turns out that it’s not avocado that I can’t abide, but british avocados. Elsewhere in the world they are much, much nicer.

***Update 2: Turns out I like hummus now. Not sure when that changed. I have since attempted to see whether my opinion of all pulses has changed and can sadly report that no, most pulses are still out. I am no longer freaked out by lentils though, although they’re not going on the favourites list either!