17 Sep

XOXO, trying new old things

Back from XOXO. Noticed Andy Baio tweeting that some folks quit their job the day after getting back from the festival. I wonder what they left to go and do? Probably something they don’t consider work.

I can sympathise. If it wasn’t for the fact that I a) took 6 months off last year, attempting a little freelance, nearly going completely bonkers and b) actually sort of like the routine of a proper job, then I can see the appeal. I’d love to spend more time on non-work things. I don’t, though, inevitably because I’m embarrassed that I’ll do whatever it is as badly as I do my day-job.

However, I have been trying to do more non-work things on the side and just ignore that fear as best I can.

When I was a kid, I drew a lot. I wasn’t even totally bad at it. I drew and painted so much, art college was not an entirely crazy direction I considered. That never happened, partly because I had a really bad art teacher towards the end of my foray into taking art seriously that she totally put me off for years, and big part of me has always regretted letting that happen. Regretting is, of course, stupid, because I have a really good life now and I enjoy the work I do and blah blah blah wouldn’t be here today, etc. But still, I do wonder sometimes.

Matthew Sheret started a “30 days of music” to get out of his writing rut. I played along and found setting aside a little bit of time to think about some music every day very relaxing.

I started a “30 days of drawing” to try and have the same effect on myself on a thing I wish I did more of. It’s partially worked. On the one hand, I have drawn more in the last couple of months than I have in the last 10 years, but I haven’t managed to finish the 30 days, partly because I was spending too long on each piece. I guess I failed at sticking to my own rules (quick, non-precious, drawings), but it has succeeded in making me not ashamed to try something and I’ve had better outcomes than I thought I was capable of. I genuinely thought I’d forgotten how to draw and paint.

Dormouse

I’m going to keep doing this. This is a thing that I do now.

02 Jan

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.

08 May

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.