I emigrated

It’s been quiet around these parts, but I have a good excuse. I’ve been busy.

As you may already be aware, in July of 2013, I emigrated.

I left my beloved London to set up home with my American husband in San Francisco. A combination of visa issues and job shenanigans led us to making this decision, which are far too boring and tedious to bother to explain in any other setting than that of “over a beer in a pub”, which I’m happy to do should the situation arise, but let it be known that I left London and my job there with great sadness. If given the opportunity to go back one day, I gladly will. I miss London a lot, but that’s almost exclusively because I miss all the people I counted as friends there more than I let on.

Come visit me, guys.

And so, we’ve been busy with moving and finding somewhere to live in the madness that is the San Francisco real-estate market (it’s a really quick way to learn your way around SF, if nothing else, after you’ve viewed near 30 apartments) and doing all the sorts of boring bureaucracy that comes with starting over, not to mention dealing with the ridiculous US immigration system – I’m now a family-based visa expert, if anyone needs that.

We’re pretty settled in now, finally.

What’s next?

I loved working for the Government Digital Service. Having been there from before that department was even born, back in those slightly dingy offices in Lambeth, I was in the enviable position to see things grow and have an early impact. I can barely believe how big they are now and how much has been achieved in such a short space of time.

It was truly an honour to get to play a part in all of it and to get to work with such an incredible team of people. It’s affected me greatly in terms of what sort of work I now want to do. I knew when I arrived in San Francisco, that I didn’t want to just jump on board with the first thing I came across. I wanted to find somewhere that I knew would “get it”, somewhere that wanted to try and do Good Things™ for real people.

And so, on January 7th, I’m joining Code for America as their senior designer and front-end engineer.

April recap – TXJS & Front-Trends

April was pretty decent. I got to attend two very good conferences and I got to speak at them.

TXJS, Austin, USA

Austin! One of my favourite cities (mostly because I love tacos). Was very pleased to be asked to return to this conference after I spoke there last year. The day was remarkable, if only because it’s one of the first conferences in a very long time where I actually watched all of the talks (although Rebecca, being on before me, may have only had half of my attention). Really a very well curated day, and I felt very lucky to be in the line-up.

Alex was not overly prescriptive in what I should talk about, but suggested he liked the content of last year and would like a little more on that. So, I decided to pick an aspect about that that I felt was important to us at GDS and fundamental to the success of our Design Principles.

For me, it’s been our honesty and simple language. The words that we’ve used to talk about user needs, technical aspects of the site and the ethos have been plain and no-nonsense. I think this is hugely down to the strength of a team that has the confidence to cut through bullshit and say what it really means – Russell and Sarah are particularly brilliant at this, and have had huge parts to play in getting this cult of simple down in writing.

The tech scene is sort of rife with nonsense words. Buzzwords and clichés and the new name for the next big thing, which is actually the new name for the same old sensible thing – but with better marketing and a twitter hashtag. Ugh. I want a lot less of that in our world.

So, I picked on a few of these and showed a few examples from how we’re dealing with them at GDS. I believe the video for that talk is out now, but the slides are here.

Front-Trends, Warsaw, Poland

I attended this conference last year – definitely a favourite for its surprisingly sunny weather and for being one of the most friendly events I had been to in 2012. So, I was really glad to get to come back and share our Design Principles with the crowd.

It was very similar to the talk I gave at TXJS last year, except we’ve done a whole lot more at GDS since June of last year – we released v1.0 of gov.uk, and a bunch of other stuff like the performance platform, Inside Government (and the 24 departments) and foreign travel advice, to name a few. I showcased some of these things, and then went through the design principles with the lovely, receptive, Polish audience and it seemed to go over rather well. The slides for this version of the talk are here.

Three days are a lot for a conference, but it was really high quality through-out and the breadth of subjects was really great. I wouldn’t recommend putting the party on the second night again, however – that last morning was something of a challenge. :)

Jawbone Up Review

I’ve had a fair few people ask about the Jawbone Up I’ve been wearing since November (the second version, not the recalled first one – although, as you’ll read, perhaps this one should have been too). Here’s how I’ve found it.

The good

The reason I waited on the Up, over say the Nike Fuelband, was because I wanted a wrist-wearable tracker plus sleep data. The FitBit One has a wearable night-time band, but it looks rather large and cumbersome and I didn’t want a clothes-clip tracker in the day time (where do dress wearers clip them?).

Jawbone Up

The Up band’s size is really good and it’s comfy and it doesn’t look ridiculous.

I like the sleep tracking, although I feel like it’s not terribly accurate – if I wake and don’t move around much, it doesn’t record it as a waking period – but it’s accurate enough to collect the information I’m interested in.

I have been a bad sleeper for a long time, but having actual data about the length of time I’ve been asleep and awake has helped reduce my anxiety about a bad night’s sleep (it always feels like a lifetime when you’re awake in the middle of the night and don’t want to be – but turns out it isn’t), which in turn has helped improve how well I go to sleep generally, I think.

I also like the smart-alarm – before I’d put off looking at the clock to see the time, but the gentle nudge that, yes, it is about time I got up is really useful, and again, anxiety reducing.

The steps tracking seems fine. I’ve never bothered to calibrate it, since I don’t do much exercise except walking – but it seems to match the distances I do regularly around the city. It’s fun – I’m not competing, so it’s mostly just interesting. I hear from others that it basically can’t cope with running or cycling, though.

The bad

It broke. Twice. The first time, it broke after about 6 weeks – the vibration feature (needed for the smart-alarm and idle alert) just stopped working for no apparent reason. At the time, the Up band wasn’t out in the UK, so Jawbone were not willing to replace it (ugh) but when I said I’d be in New York for a week, they agreed to courier me a replacement to the Google office there while I was in town – which I think was really just a nice act on the part of one very good customer service rep I’d met on the support forums. Had I not been on the forum or nagged on twitter, I suspect I’d have been left out of pocket.

Unfortunately, the second band stopped working a couple of months later. The smart-alarm feature became temperamental and often wouldn’t go off at all, and the button on the end of the band had become dislodged and no longer clicked. This time, the band was out in the UK, and they sent me another one immediately.

I’ve been wearing the third one for about a week and I honestly expect it’ll break soon, too, sadly. Edd, who originally picked up my first band for me while he was in New York, had his first and second bands break too (the second after only 2 weeks) – so the statistical data I have available to me is not very favourable and a quick look through the forums will find most people in similar situations.

The other stuff

They just released third-party app integration, but sadly on iOS devices only (I use a Nexus 4 day to day, so syncing with an iOS device is an extra annoyance if I want to use those features). I expect that’ll help make the data the band is recording more interesting.

Otherwise, these are things I wish it had:

  • A visible metre or something on the band. I have to sync it with my phone to find out how I’m doing. It doesn’t even tell me the time. I feel like it’s not providing me with much in return for the space it’s taking up on my wrist.
  • There’s no web view – the only way to share the data is through facebook (meh) or if your friend is also an Up user (which is basically no one). I’d like to be able to let my husband see my sleep data – then he’ll know that I’m just grumpy because I’m tired. He can sneak a look at it on my phone, I guess, but it would just be nice to have a public view somewhere on the web.
  • The food and mood logging is boring and pointless. It may be that the new app integration gives this value, but it was onerous and I gave up after a week. The insights offered to you only ever related to steps and sleep, so no matter how much food and mood you logged, it was for your own entertainment only. These features appear to be rather tacked-on.
  • Some people complain about the lack of wireless sync as a deal-breaker (you sync it via the mic jack). This personally doesn’t greatly bother me (longer battery life is a reasonable trade), but given that I have to take it off my arm to find out anything about it, as mentioned above, then I think it would have been preferential in this case to sync wirelessly.

But, these are all minor gripes – I’d recommend but for the fact that they clearly have not managed to make a band that doesn’t expire every 2 months.

I’m mostly just hoping this band will hold out long enough for the delivery of the Fitbit Flex I just pre-ordered.

Update: My 3rd band has the same smart alarm fault. Sigh.