The Opening Ceremony: You had to be there

I’m thankful to have lived in London for the last 3 years. Otherwise, like the rest of the world, I probably wouldn’t have understood most of the cultural references in the Olympic opening ceremony this past week… and probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it.

For outsiders, anyone who hasn’t lived in Britain, I’m not entirely sure I disagree with their negative sentiments. While Britons laughed and cheered along, the rest of the world seems to have had it go straight over their heads. I think it was the Washington Post who aptly described it as “the world’s biggest inside joke”.

That said, I loved it.

It was lively, quirky, and quintessentially British. I loved the theatrics of it all, the endless shout-outs to the culture, and was impressed by the sheer audacity of the show Danny Boyle put on. I laughed out loud at Rowan Atkinson’s mangling of ‘Chariots of Fire’, gasped when I saw they featured the Queen alongside Bond (“the ACTUAL Queen, guys! And the corgis!”), and cheered when a small army of Mary Poppins came to save the day.

Part of the treat of the ceremony, for me, was to have been over at a friend’s flat, in a building that was directly beside the Olympic park. With a practically full view of the stadium, we spent our time hustling from the TV screen inside to the spectacle outside whenever anything big was going on over the stadium. We were close enough to make out that it was the Queen and Bond jumping from the helicopter above, and in perfect viewing range of the fantastic Olympic Rings themed fireworks at the end of the show.

Not being from around here, though, I didn’t get every reference. I learned a few new things, jabbing my truly British friends in the room for details on what was going on as some of the more obscure (at least to me) cultural references came on stage. Being an expat, I’m accustomed to being ever so slightly out of the loop (sometimes more than slightly, I’ll admit!), and took it in stride.

Looking at it from the point of view of the rest of the world? The ceremony just wouldn’t have been as much fun. While fun and outrageous, so much of it just wasn’t as accessible to those not living on these Isles.

Naturally, everyone’s first reaction is to compare the London 2012 ceremony to Beijing’s in 2008.

Frankly, looking back, I found Beijing’s ceremony to be impressive yet boring. A couple thousand drummers, smiling and banging away on drums with precise coordination, making up a tremendous sound and light show. Undoubtedly cool. But rewatching it now, I realise how slow it was, and how little emotion it evoked. In the end, it was fascinating to watch, but nothing reflect back on and remember.

The London Opening Ceremony was a stark contrast to the monotonous yet undeniably epic Beijing ceremony four years ago, one that will change the way cities open the games in the future.

The last two summer Olympic ceremonies couldn’t have been more different. I can’t help but wonder what Brazil is now conjuring up for 2016, though without a doubt, it will be colourful. Game on.

30
Jul 2012
POSTED BY Janna Bastow
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Personal, Society

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Leap Motion: I’m not buying it

It was only a few hours ago that the latest in motion capture devices started appearing in my feeds, along with all of the ‘Ooohs’ and ‘Ahhhs’ (or thereabouts) of my geeky, gadget-loving friends.

I watched the video, and yes, initially was impressed. It’s slick, and is paired with exactly the right ambient soundtrack that you’d expect of a great prototype video like this. It’s hard not to be wowed:

All this, and ready for pre-order at $69.99? Seems too good to be true. I’m not buying it.

Here’s what’s holding me back:

Is this practical?
Let’s imagine that this device was as magical as the video and their website proclaims. Try this experiment: Play the video above again, but this time, mimic the movements of the hand model, even roughly, for the full minute. Tiring, eh? Now imagine using it to play a game, or to navigate a map, or to do your online shopping. Holding your arm up like that just isn’t practical. Precision doesn’t count for much if your hand is tired and wavering.

Is this really as good as they say?
It’s easy to make a prototype look whizz-bang cool in a video. It appears well shot at first glance, but it’s clear that there’s something not actually working here. Check out the backwards Apple symbol at 0:36. A few of composite clips and some clever hand acting, and you’ve got yourself a product video that captures your attention.

They’ve got some work to do, clearly. Along the way, I see a few ways this promise could run into some technical roadblocks:

  • Compatibility with major operating systems and programs.
    A lack of support from manufacturers here, or a bad implementation of driver software, could make this a nightmare to use. In a day where more and more complex gesture driven interaction is expected, will this device be able to keep up with and exceed the convenience of today’s in-built trackpads?
  • Undefined working area.
    They are touting an interaction space of 8 cubic feet, theoretically pretty sound. But is it going to be just as accurate and responsive 2 inches from the device as it is 12 inches above or to the side? Am I going to be plagued by ‘dropping my cursor’ as I leave the 3D interaction space while flailing my arms around trying to find cinema listings or nail a headshot? At least I can feel the edge of a trackpad, and can intuitively respond.
  • Interpretation of movements.
    The sensitivity they are claiming, at 200x that of other touch-free products, sounds fantastic. This is a clincher if this thing is going to fly. On top of this, though, and not mentioned, is acceleration of that same point. If I want to write in a tiny box, I may have trouble doing so with equally tiny and precise movements. If I slow down, this thing has got to take that in account. Likewise, it’s got to account for the angle at which I point. Just try writing your name on the same plane as your screen, with a pen or your finger. It’s tough. When holding a pen, writing on a more horizontal plane is just a much more natural movement. That said, this might just come down to how well it’s integrated with the programs that need to interpret the movements, which brings me back to my initial concern about tight compatibility with my existing programs. If the hardware can handle it and feed back these minute movements, the software will have to know exactly how to interpret it, or we’ll end up with a hugely frustrating experience.

Who are these guys?
More worryingly, this company doesn’t have any past track record of delivering consumer tech products like this. While they’ve succeeded in securing nearly $15 million in funding from reputable angels and VCs, before I slap down my own credit card, I want some assurance that something is going to get delivered that is as astounding as the video suggests.

Additionally, the pre-order form seems perfectly happy to offer me the same low price for shipping to the US as it does for the UK. That’s unlikely. If I place my order today, I worry that the original deal may not get honoured. Update: The pre-order form has been updated since I first checked it out earlier today, along with some reassuring copy about the terms of your pre-order. Well done guys!

What’s the rush, anyway?
While I do love having the latest gadgets, I don’t see the need to pre-order. Sure, there might be a backorder and huge queues to get it once it does launch, but I’m happy to skip the fuss and see what others make of it. If, a few days after launch, I start seeing examples of it blowing minds in real life, I’ll do what I can to get my hands on one. Besides, while only at $69.99 now, it’s likely to be cheaper and more readily available within a few months of launch.

I’m not suggesting others don’t buy it. In fact, please do! Hack into it, take it for a test drive, tell me if it will blend and all the other great things we learn about new gadgets when they first come out. I can’t wait to see what the world makes of this.

I’m always wary about first generation anything, particularly if it’s the first from the company. I suspect, as with any new product, there’s going to be teething issues and a bit of a kick-back from the first customers. There’s nothing wrong with this, and I hope Leap Motion takes any feedback to heart, makes the necessary changes, serves their customers well, and gets the support they deserve from software manufacturers. What they are proposing here is nothing short of superbly cool, and I’d love to see one in action. I’ll likely pick one up within months or weeks of launch, if they play their cards right.

But right now? No, I’m not buying it.

21
May 2012
POSTED BY Janna Bastow
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Product, Technology

DISCUSSION 5 Comments

Triumphant Triathlon Trial

Last weekend, I took part in my first ever triathlon, urged on by my lovely (and infinitely tougher) colleague Charlie. To clarify, it was a mini triathlon: At 400m swim, 10km cycle, and a 5km run, it doesn’t even qualify as a Sprint. On top of that, it was an indoor event – we did the track in the comfort of The Third Space gym, using the pool, stationary bikes, and treadmills, in sets of 4 racers. It wasn’t exactly what you’d call hardcore, but as I learned, it was a challenge in itself.

I’d seen the signs up around the gym advertising the event… and lightly considered it. However, having practically no formal swimming practice (grew up on lakes and with a pool in my backyard, and so am well enough versed in swimming, but never took to grinding out lengths of front crawl fro fun), the idea of signing up scared me. How far is 400m when you swim it? Will I be able to keep up, or will I need to stop for my breath after each length? How, exactly, is one supposed to breath, and turn, and everything else, without looking like a complete newbie?

The other reason I had holding me back from signing up on the spot was the date. Falling on the morning of March 17th, this meant I’d be competing just a couple days after my trip to Austin for SXSW. SXSW was a huge inspiration but an absolute overload. Plenty of walking, but nothing that I’d call part of a fitness routine that’d get me prepped for a triathlon the following week. Certainly not after those ribs and the rest of the grub I chowed down on out in Texas!

However, given a light prod, I find it hard not to accept a challenge. I got in touch with the girl in charge, a very sweet but obviously very hardcore athlete under the pseudonym Hurry Harry, and found that there were just a few spots left. Harriet was kind enough to warn me that the slots left for the 10:00 and 10:30 start times would be up against a group of particularly competitive guys. I opted for the 9:30, but later secretly wished I’d taken on the larger challenge.

That said, as much as I told myself I was going to push myself and that I’d be okay… I was nervous come race day, not knowing what to expect. And recovering from a poorly timed cold at the time, I didn’t feel like moving much at all that morning. But I got up, dragged my butt to the gym, and got through the course.

So, how’d I do? Terribly, if you’re counting by time. Of the 30 or so competitors, I lagged behind, quite badly. Here’s what I clocked:

400m swim: 11.21
10km cycle: 20.17
5km run: 39.00
Total time: 1:10.38

I started off shakily, more nervous about my swimming form and the fact that I was being watched and timed than about how fast I was going to be able to go. But once I finished a length and realised I was already losing ground, my concentration was shot for good. Over the last few months, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying heading for a swim, getting lost in the rhythm. Something about having 3 others splashing alongside me though, clearly lapping me, was unnerving. And as you’re swimming and trying to time your breath, being unnerved is unpleasant. So is a mouthful of water, as I learned about 80 metres in. By the time I was finishing my last laps, the others had finished and moved to the change rooms to get ready for their cycle. I caught my breath, and completed the rest, at my own pace. By the time I was done, my arms were shattered and my lungs were tight. I was dying to get on to the cycle where I feel a little more grounded.

The problem with estimating your ability for your first triathlon is getting a feel for not only what each individual leg of the race will take out of you, but what combining the three means to your performance. I took it easy on the bike, not pushing the gears way up to shave a couple minutes off my time – I realised, probably a little too late, that I was going to need my legs as fresh as possible for the run. I hadn’t hit the pavement for months at this stage, and the 5km I once would have laughed at was now feeling daunting.

I closed in on the 10th kilometre, and took the 2 minute change-over period to refill my water bottle, only to realise my legs were weak and wobbly. My competitors had already taken off on their runs, and looked to be comfortably in stride on the treadmills.

Now, I hate treadmills. I’m sure it’s just a personal psychosis, but I can’t help feeling at peril, my legs always a tiny slip away from being tossed off the back of the machine. The feeling-like-a-hamster sensation plays a part too, and I didn’t start to feel like I was in the ‘zone’ until about the 4th kilometre. By this point, my shin splints were acting up badly, and my calves felt as if they were just going to seize up. I took it slowly, and punched the machine into a walk when needed. That’s the worst part about a treadmill, in my opinion. Unlike running on a pavement, where if you slow down or speed up, you just do so, on a treadmill, you’re forced to coax the machine into suiting your pace, desperately mashing on buttons that have woefully bad touch-sensitivity. This isn’t so bad when you’re starting, but by the time you’re exhausted, kicking the machine up or down in speed is more effort than it’s worth, but leaves your running pace feeling quite unnatural.

In the end, I got there. I finished. And I got a half decent grab bag to show for it (I wasn’t exactly going for the prizes!).

And now that I’ve got my first measurements, I know what times I’ve got to beat, and what to expect in order to beat them. Looking forward to the next one!

25
Mar 2012
POSTED BY Janna Bastow
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Spotify finally spot on with their radio

Spotify logoThere’s a only handful of SaaS products I happily shell out cash for. One of my most valued subscriptions, since 2009, has been for Spotify.

I use it several times daily, across all my devices, and constantly use it to share my tastes to my friends and the world (even though it’s disappointingly not available in my homeland of Canada where a good proportion of my friends are). I’ve got my gripes, particularly around the fact I can only sync to 3 of my 4 devices at the same time, but otherwise, I’ve constantly found delight in it, and regularly recommend it to others.

The largest of my gripes however, has always been in the discovery element of their product, showing me music I might actually like. In short, it’s been seriously lacking. Spotify knows full well what I prefer to listen to, and has never made much of an effort to help me find new music based on previous habits.

Until recently, that is, when I stumbled upon their updated radio feature.

Unlike the previous version of their radio (which weakly gave a small set of somewhat cliché genres to choose from), the new radio kicks off the moment you select a song from your library, instantly playing songs that actually really make sense in light of what I like.

Over the last week, I’ve barely turned the radio feature off, and have added a number of great songs into my usual playlists based on the tunes I’ve been able to stumble upon.

Finally, recommended music, exactly where I listen to it, with the ability to seamlessly add it to my growing collection already on Spotify. Simple, delightful, and spot on.

Kudos, Spotify.

Spotify Radio

31
Jan 2012
POSTED BY Janna Bastow
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Product, Technology

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Time, ever forward

I’ve long held a particular theory about the world we live in, on the subject of time travel, that I’ve rehashed in my mind over the years. I’m not going to dig into the topics of parallel universes, alternate realities, or fate. But I will state this:

Time travel* never will be made possible, at any time in the future**.

Caveats:
* Useful time travel, that is. I’m sure we will do (and are already doing) astoundingly bizarre things with minute particles, frozen to near absolution, isolated in a vacuum, or measured in different time scales to those in which we live.
** Important point: In the future of humanity.

Reasoning

If it ever did exist, it will have opened up the flow of information backwards in time, inevitably leading to the technology landing in the hands of those of us in the present. At some point in the future, some misguided soul would have passed it back as far as our own generation and earlier.

Therefore, if time travel technology ever exists in the future, it would exist right now.

Let’s think to a time when all of this tinkering with physics over at the likes of CERN might actually turn into something. So far, we’ve zipped a few neutrinos through an isolated chamber at speeds faster than light.

That’s pretty damn cool.

But it’s not really going to change anything that’s applicable to our daily lives.

However, if the past has anything to teach us, it’s that we get better with these experiments with time, and eventually, once-’useless’ experimentation starts turning into great inventions. Electricity, light, microchips, etc… all started off as interesting but at their present time, mostly useless experiments that did little to shape how we lived at that time.

So I suppose we could say that if we were on to something with breaking the speed of light and defying the known laws of space/time, we’d be on the right track to make something of it. Over time, it’s conceivable to see that perhaps we’ll figure out how to multiply the effect of travelling faster than light, and perform the trick in much more favourable conditions. Eventually, I can see how we’d figure out a trick to sending collections of neutrinos or other particles to pre-determined ‘places’ in space-time, all programmed with bits of information. Over time, we’d surely be sending ever growing packets of information back in time in greater and greater leaps.

Now we’re getting somewhere. If this were to happen, what would happen next?

Inevitably, the latest and greatest military would find some compelling use case here, and fund the project until it provided some tangible benefit in warfare. Of course, at some point, the world’s largest conglomerates would want in on the action, realising the ROI on sending information backwards far surpasses paying overpriced strategic consultants to try to predict the future. Naturally, the City boys would find a way to conjure up some financial structures, creating products out of events that haven’t happened yet. Scratch that, this is already happening…. There’d be a demand for this technology, and where there’d be money, there’d be a steadily growing supply.

At some point, as the future presses on, these technologies will become more affordable, within reach of less regulated companies and the world’s hot-shot billionaires. Some genius, probably at Apple, will figure out how to get BackTime™ Technologies in the hands of consumers, at a tidy profit.

Not long after, of course, the burgeoning startup scene of the 2470′s dips into the cloud services of BackTime™, applying it to age-old problems like porn, dating, and photo sharing, all with interesting results (There’s a whole post that needs to be dedicated to exploring the possibilities here…) – given away for free, undoubtedly, clamouring for a piece of the market: 32 billion strong population of the GEA.

Kids of the future will wake up on XMas morning (having long forgotten that the ‘X’ in XMas did not originally stand for the international currency, Xeneps, although Hallmark Conglomerate Industries doesn’t do much to help that matter) to open BackTime™ Barbie and BackTime™ Laser Nerf toys. These sound dangerous, but really just lend themselves to a winter break of fun and games, playing dolls with yourself from a week in the past, and sneaking up to pop the kid in the neighbouring moon sector in the head with a foam ball before the shooter even pulls the trigger.

So yes, ridiculous as this all is, I’m making the assumption that if we get our current tinkering up to shape, it’ll be a short fall (time is relative, you see) into a world where everyone has their hands on the technology.

So what happens next in this theoretical future? Well, knowing humanity, it’ll get out of hand. Whether with good intentions or bad, someone, somewhere, will have the means to send information on how to develop such technologies back to themselves (or an ancestor), giving way for the chance of creating the technology earlier.

Rinse, and repeat. In no time (again, it’s relative), you will find that the technology itself was created long before it was… originally created. The arrow of time ceases to matter.

What does it all come to?

Our technology is evolving faster than our ability to cope with the implications. At the rate we’re going, we stand to build time travel technology faster than we learn to deal with it as a global society.

It’s based on the fact that we’re not seeing these implications in our present day (and in the past), that I’m hypothesising that it will never exist in the future.

This theory of mine is something I distinctly remember thinking through when I was about 11, probably after watching too much The Outer Limits. Over the years, I’ve reflected on this original stream of thought and come up with a number of explanations and alternatives:

  1. Technology roadblocks. Perhaps I’m right, and for all our efforts, we just never crack this one. Time goes forward, and we can’t change that with even the ever advancing tools we create to meddle with physics.
  2. Time runs out for humanity. Along the path to creating such advanced technology, something terrible happens, and we just don’t get the chance to live out our full potential as a species. Perhaps this climate change is our last blow, or a rogue asteroid, or global war, or zombie apocalypse. I’ve grown more cynical with age, and this one is rising my list of likely explanations.
  3. We screw it up. Similar to the point above, except directly pointing at the time travel technology itself. Somewhere along the line, passing back the BackTime technology, our society collapses from the implications. Economies would crumble, religion and cultures and everything we know would take a blow, societies would panic and rebel, wars would be won without ever being started. What could possibly go wrong? Everything. The technology exists in the future, but the moment it gets out of hand, humanity basically ceases to function to the point of being able to send back tangible information about what went wrong.
  4. We do learn how to cope. There is, of course, the remote possibility that by the time we figure out useful time travel technologies, we’re a more organised and responsible species. Perhaps, through self-control, tactful governance, and foresight, we’ll know better than to meddle with the past, even given the technology. However, I’ve not got my money on this one: We’re tens of thousands of years on as a species, and we’re still practically curious chimps, plagued by (for better or for worse) incessant inquisitiveness, a competitive nature, and hair loss. Our technology is moving in leaps and bounds, but we’re not showing much movement on the same scale. Increasingly powerful technologies will likely spell trouble.

Perhaps I’m wrong, and I’m missing a vital piece of the equation. I’m not claiming to have put anything vaguely resembling scientific thought into this.

… I don’t think I’d want to be proven wrong, however. Time. Forever destined to move forwards, or at least I would like to think for the time being…

30
Nov 2011
POSTED BY Janna Bastow
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A mutual break-up with privacy

I used to be pretty intensely private about my life, at least when it came to sharing online. That started to change for me when I met Twitter, and slowly and tentatively started putting a little more of myself in the public eye with each tweet.

I’ve been exploring the new Timeline view in Facebook, and I love it.

I did, however, have a peek at what the ‘public’ sees when they visit my profile. Turns out a lot, despite my tight settings. Typical. I suppose this is the way things are going.

There’s a war on privacy here, and I’m giving up the fight. And I’m going to try to do it amicably.

Instead of fretting every time Facebook purportedly changes their layout and along with it, your sharing settings, I’m making my profile pretty much public to the world, and, as I would always be anyway, being mindful of what I post.

There’s not really much here any more that I wouldn’t have posted on Twitter anyway, and I realise that anything posted with even the most privacy settings is never guaranteed to stay that way.

This goes hand in hand with my more open ‘friending’ policy I’ve adopted over the last couple of years, as well as the increasing blending of my personal and professional lives.

I’ve made this point before: If I get turned down for a job, or turn off a potential partner because of something I’ve posted in the past, I probably am better off without that company or person.

It helps that I work and live in the tech world (as opposed to law or finance, where this kind of attitude is generally looked down upon), where my colleagues, peers and dates tend to live just as publicly as me, if not more.

In exchange for my private data over the years, I’ve had access to the fantastic services rendered by the likes of Facebook, Twitter, and Google, including not only a massive suite of tools to manage myself, my data, and my relationships, but also the creation of a digital experience that’s moulded to me.

I’ve gotten strange looks when I’ve said this in the past, but I like highly targeted ads. I’ve always liked advertising in general, but I love when an ad speaks to me, reminds me to do or buy something I probably had an interest in anyway, and allows me to interact with it.

So no, I don’t worry about my privacy, and I’m happy that we’re parting ways maturely and on such good terms.

But what do I worry about?

I worry about building a filter bubble I’ll never be able to see beyond, or scarily, realise that I’m even in. I like that my digital life is relevant to me, but I don’t want to be left ignorant of important events, news or knowledge just because some algorithms determine it’s not the type of thing I’d click on.

I hope to see a rebellion here, a series of services I can hook my existing digital self into that will help me explore the world outside my bubble without getting drowned in information.

More than anything, I worry about not owning any of this data. I realised the other day that my Facebook profile is among my most prized possessions – my contacts, my history, everything I’ve said and all of these cherished messages from friends for the last few years – and it’s something I don’t even own. In a snap, all of that history and information could be taken away, and I would be rendered heartbroken, as if someone had burned boxes full of my photo albums, diaries, and little black books.

Unlike other aspects of this greater issue of privacy, this data ownership is something that I can at least do a little something about. I’m going to be making an effort to publish more to here and push to my networks rather than the other way around. Now that my networks are essentially open to the world, I’m going to treat them like subscription channels into various aspects of my life, all fed from a central repository of all of the stuff I create online.

I look forward to being a whole lot more open with the world. As many of you already know, it states on my personal business card: Follow me, friend me, call me.

Get in touch :)

The last of the longest

BT Tower in dusk on June 21stWith sunrise coming up at 4:43 this morning and setting at 9:21 in the evening, today marks the longest day of the year. Living at such a high latitude in London (yes, London is further north than both Toronto and Montreal, my previous bases), this day is essentially one of the longest of my life.

With a critical bug swooping in by 10:30 this morning, it certainly felt like the longest day.

As of tomorrow, with already 2 seconds shaved off the time, we’ll be slowly creeping into a darker set of days. However, having lived here for 2 years now, I know the best and brightest bits of summer are still on their way, and I’m seriously looking forward to spending some time in whatever UK sun I can sop up.

You’ll find me in the park, book (or digital equivalent) in hand, any sunny weekend from here to September. Both of them, if I can crack it ;)

21
Jun 2011
POSTED BY Janna Bastow
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BraveNewEra

Door at 40 Beak Street, SohoI stopped by the old BraveNewTalent offices today, partly to see if I could get my hands on an Amazon order that had been accidentally delivered there a day too late… and partly, I think, to say goodbye.

I stood to admire the lovely door facing Beak Street (have I mentioned I’ve got a thing for old doors?), before punching in the familiar key code and tentatively walking in. Of course, the place was a mess of ditched boxes, out-of-date flyers, and sacks of garbage congregating around every door frame.

I climbed the three curved flights of stairs for the last time and took stock of the leftover scraps and the now seemingly oversized rooms. Without the whiteboards, random posters, mismatched desks and people, there wasn’t much left of the life it all once housed. All that was left was a still, disheveled mess. Good to see it had kept its haphazard aura about it, really.

I was a bit freaked out by the office when I first started, what, with the asbestos warning stickers on the ceiling, the door handles that fell off with the slightest nudge – threatening to lock you in, and the kitchen that felt like it belonged more in a prison or an asylum than an office…. but all of this stuff grew on me, and I began to look around with a growing affection. For a building that was effectively condemned, it had done well to charm me with its quirks.

That said, being in the heart of Soho obviously helped it along – I’ve always judged a workplace by the quality of coffee and lunch-time food available in the vicinity. And for that, Soho was a clear winner. Between Foxcroft & Ginger for a delectable flat white and gourmet sandwich, Yu-foria for mid-afternoon frozen treats, and Graphic for a glass of wine to unwind in the evening, I found I could satisfy any craving within 50 paces.

However, every era must come to an end, and I see this as marking the end of ‘the early days’ at BraveNewTalent, when the 7 or so of us had to band together closely to win that next deal, charm that next investor, and drill towards each release.

As of today, we’re now double the size we were just a few months ago, and the top floor of 40 Beak Street was basically bursting at the seams with our team. We’ve shifted everything over to a new office in Shoreditch, where both the jeans and the lattes are skinnier (and infinitely more cool than I).

Having kicked open a number of doors while back in Soho, we’re now continuing to grow the team and are marching on. I have no doubt that this next stretch is going to be more exciting, more fulfilling, and increasingly successful compared to than the last. One day, I’m sure we’ll have some shiny glass and concrete building to call our own, and we’ll deck it out with all of the modern amenities and latest tech (and an in-house cook and a high-end billiards table, I’m sure), but for now, I see Shoreditch as the perfect home, nestled among dozens of other tech startups in the heart of a vibrant neighbourhood.

Come by for a coffee and a hello!

31
May 2011
POSTED BY Janna Bastow
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Madrid and I

I discovered last year that I love travelling alone.  Not to be anti-social, but I find it gives me the chance to really gather my thoughts, and (with the inherent lack of mobile data while abroad) force myself to be “off the grid”.  Previously, travel, to me, was a thing you did with family, some friends, or a partner.  I had to rip myself from the security I had in having someone else with me to help navigate a new place.  Instead, I took up a habit of just getting something booked and seeing what happens when I get there.

Now I’m hooked; there’s no better way for me to really see a new place.

Church in a Vespa mirror, MadridI wander until I get lost, and marvel at little delights, such as the texture of the streets and sidewalks, the unique style of signposts and street lamps, and (more often than I care to admit) stop to stare at old, neglected yet beautiful doors.  Curving streets and hidden alleyways intrigue me, and invariably, I follow these down just to see where I might end up.  I meander through parks to admire the subtle or abrupt differences in flora and fauna to other places I’ve been (Rome was my favourite for that; imagine my delight when I realised there were oranges growing in the street!).  I try to immerse myself in the life there, stopping at cafés to relax and take in the bustling city around me.

As I wander around, a blur of thoughts runs through my head: What would it be like to live here? Would I like it?  Is this the sort of thing I’d get up to on a lazy Sunday once settled into the city?  Would I, one day, be happy to settle here, and to raise kids here?  Will I ever return to this city, this street, this corner?

When I’m in a new city, I don’t try too hard to capture anything in photos.  Does it do it justice to take pictures of all of these things? No, never.  To start, I’m not a brilliant photographer.  I also usually carry around just a low-spec camera phone which, in the past, has provided pretty pitiful results.  So instead of having my head stuck in a map or behind a camera like a typical tourist, I try to vividly remember each moment for myself; to commit to memory the sounds, the smells, the tiny details of each place.

Just hours before this particular trip to Madrid, I picked up the HTC Desire HD I’d been so pining for. Armed with an 8MP camera and a whole slew of in-built photography filters, I set about snapping a few shots to see what I could get out of it.

However, no photographer in the world could capture this moment, right now… sitting in a plaza in Madrid (whose name I’ll probably forget); feeling the warmth of the sun on my leg and my cheek; the contrast of the cool hard surface of the limestone step I’m sitting on; the rattling of tourists poring over guide maps and trying to get the perfect vacation group shot; the buzz of local children, while speaking a foreign language, so familiar and jubilant; the scent of the shrub on which I’m resting my bag; the Spanish guitarist; the clink of coins dropping in his hat, not as often as deserved; the gentle rush of the fountain… Could a picture do this all justice? I think not.  Here’s a shot, an attempt, nonetheless:

Plaza de Oriente, Madrid

Wouldn’t you rather have been here instead?

24
Jan 2011
POSTED BY Janna Bastow
POSTED IN

Personal

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To the New Year!

2010 was, unequivocally, the most interesting, exciting year of my life.  It was my first full year living in London, and I was just getting the swing of it at the beginning of the year, having spent the latter half of the year before getting my bearings on these haphazard London streets and accepting the loss of my oh-so-loved modern conveniences only found in North American flats.

To begin the year, I rang in 2010 in style, in Amsterdam. I went alone, and had an absolute blast. While there, I made my resolution for the year: To travel as much as I can, hitting at least 10 different (probably European) cities in the process. By my count, I did that and beat that.  I’ll not list them all now, but I will have to write about the rest of those trips at a later date…

Last year’s resolution was, I think, the only time I’ve ever actually stuck with it.  It helps to have something so fun yet achievable. Now, on to this year’s resolutions.  I’m setting a few, because there’s a number of things I want to work on, and because I love a challenge, and also, because I haven’t decided on one big “Thing To Do” for 2011.  No worries.  Here goes:

  • Blog more.  I started this blog last year with very little idea what I’d be making of it.  As it turns out, I’m still figuring that out. In the meantime, I see no harm in getting a few random posts about my thoughts and activities published for the time being.  I suppose this is, really, the best way to start.  That said, writing is an intensely personal process for me, but getting myself in the habit of publishing my thoughts should be a good exercise.  Plus, I want to document my life somewhere other than Facebook or Twitter, where the future (and privacy) of said content is unknown, and I can expand beyond a restrictive 140 characters or so.
  • Cook more.  After moving to this flat at the beginning of last year, I got out of the habit of really cooking.  I used to have a kitchen I could really take pride in, and made the most use of I knew how, experimenting in a new playground.  Here in London, I’m sharing the flat, and really don’t feel any sense of ownership of the kitchen.  My plan is to make a bigger effort to stalk up on groceries, get creative again, and make myself some home cooked grub.  At least a couple times a week, if I can hack it.
  • Eat more fruit.  This should be achievable now that BraveNewTalent is having fruit delivered to the office.  Win!  But if it weren’t for that, I’d likely be down to whatever I can salvage from Pret on my lunch breaks.  It’s not my fault that no where in London serves piles of fresh fruit, a la Chez Cora. Actually, I should eat more healthily in general.  I say this as I tuck into cheese and pate with crackers and wine…. see that second point about cooking more.  I need to work on this..
  • Keep moving and travelling.  I’m not going to set a number of places to visit, like I did last year, as 2010 was all about seeing more of Europe.  This year, I’m open to trying some places a little further from home, which likely means I’ll have to spend more time in each place and therefore can fit fewer in.  Although I’m determined to go back to France, perhaps for the Beaujolais Nouveau week.  Oh, and getting in some SCUBA diving, a new trick I picked up in Greece this last year. And perhaps somewhere even more awesome for the next new years celebrations.

Okay, New Years Eve then.  This year, I rung it in in Times Square. In New York City. How COOL is that? Okay fine, it wasn’t cool per se to the native New Yorkers I spoke to, who all favoured hitting up a house party or overpriced club, to standing in crowds, sans alcohol for an indeterminate number of hours to watch a glittery ball drop for 10 seconds.  But for me, seeing the ball drop, in person, in Times Square was just one of those things I had to do.  Check!

Times Square was exhilerating and energising.  For anyone thinking of going, don’t pay attention to those who say you need to turn up early just to see the ball drop.  Just be ready to sweet talk your way past about 3 sets of cops, and shell out about $20 each on a deposit for a restaurant booking within the second or third set of barriers.  Give yourself a couple hours (not the 12 that they recommend) to sort it out will help. So will taking on a fake British accent, as I learned.

So, lots of stuff to achieve this year, in 2011.  For starters, I’ll keep my progress up here on this blog.  And start planning something equally epic to ring out the year.  Perhaps Tokyo? Buenos Aires?  I feel a tradition coming on…

All of that said, I am looking forward to seeing what unfolds in this coming year.

Happy New Year, all, and all the best for 2011!

03
Jan 2011
POSTED BY Janna Bastow
POSTED IN

Personal

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