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by SS at 8:06 pm on Tuesday 26th November

In a stunning return to form (or at least to adhering to my weekly recurring task on Wunderlist), I'm blogging just a week after my last post! The past week has been a series of frustrations, minor successes and occasionally causes for major introspection.

On Monday, shortly after I posted my last entry, I met with one of the companies whose offer I had turned down. My major qualms were not the nature of the work but more the culture of the company. This is a hard thing to say without appearing shallow but having worked in both a large corporate and a small tech company (within a larger corporate) - I know how much of a difference that makes. When I went in to visit their office, I was reminded very acutely of Dilbert's office. My attempt to express my reservations about working there seemed to fall on deaf ears. When I mentioned the proximity to San Francisco that was desirable to me, as well as living in a place with the cultural backdrop of Berkeley, they dismissed my concerns and suggested that San Jose might be comparable...

Moving on, Tuesday was an equally unfulfilling day - my co-founders (slight shudder at using such a cliched term but I suppose there's no accurate other way to describe people I'm hoping to start a business with) and I had a series of meetings to scope out our project. This is a turbulent process that, if it is getting us to an end point, seems to be going painfully slowly. Discontent seems to be amplified by a failure to communicate between a couple of members of my team. It's not clear how the best way to deal with this is - both make valid points but just can't seem to work together without ending up arguing over an irrelevant detail. So far I've been trying to act as interpreter but that isn't a sustainable process.

That day was redeemed by meeting David (a university friend and former colleague at BarCap) and his co-founder Chris - who had just interviewed for YCombinator's Winter 2014 class (and been accepted!). They stayed over in Berkeley and it was great to hear about their entrepreneurial journey so far. I'm looking forward to seeing them again in January while they work on growing their startup, Sketch Deck.

On Wednesday I had an interesting set of discussions with my capstone project team as we tried to assess the scope of our project. With nearly all of semester over now, we're pretty far behind on our project. Given the FAA roadmap for UAS integration that was published recently - our project's ambition, to come up with a commercial application for UAS technology, was called into question. We've now decided to pivot the idea to something more likely to be (legally) permitted but, wow, that was a tough discussion.

That evening, three of us went to the Global Social Venture Competition's mixer at the Hub in San Francisco. GSVC is a business plan competition with a $25,000 prize for ventures that have a strong social or environmental impact. They don't necessarily have to be non-profit organisations. We weren't planning to pitch but about 70% of the people who signed up to pitch didn't show up - so with 3 minutes notice, I scribed a few sentences on my phone and put my hand up. Evidently I was outwardly more nervous in appearance than I felt because both of my colleagues mentioned that I looked visibly shaken as I spoke. Still, this was a good hit of adrenaline and hopefully good practice for future events.

On Thursday, Last.fm released their new radio player which now sources tracks directly from YouTube. This decision makes perfect sense from a business point of view - they've been at the mercy of record labels since they started operating a streaming music business. Deferring that responsibility away to YouTube/Google (who have a much stronger bargaining position) simplifies operations considerably. The 20+ expensive servers that ran our streaming service can be retired, as well as the five or so machines that we used for ingesting content. Sadly, however, this means that the majority of the work I did on the ingestion system over the past two years is now redundant.

It's a morose feeling but this sort of churn is normal in the tech community. My first internship at BarCap was with a team that wrote software for the mortgage backed securities loans team around about the time (in 2008) when that whole industry was going under. It's a depressing feeling knowing that the work you've done is essentially going to be thrown away. On the other hand, the fact that this can be done so easily perhaps explains why the software industry is able to be continually innovative. I'm glad I was able to leave when I did - having to decommission the ingestion system would be partially like saying a permanent goodbye to a loved one.

While contemplating my role in building redundant technology, I journeyed to the UCSF Parnassus campus to see an ophthamologist for a follow-up to my eye surgery in April. It feels as if the acuity of my eyesight has declined considerably since arriving in Berkeley but unexpectedly he mentioned that, while my prescription has changed, it is neither better nor for the worse. There's a cruel irony in the location of the Beckman Eye Center at UCSF - it's on a hill overlooking San Francisco and has one of the grandest views I've seen through these eyes of mine. I hope that all their patients eventually get to admire the view.

With eyes dilated, I journeyed back to Berkeley (almost missing my stop, for lack of being able to see) to continue more project work.

On Friday evening, we had a 'masked' ball, organised by the wonderful CS grad social association. It was an interesting evening but finished in a way that led me to reconsider my notions of gentlemanness, perhaps unduly so. Some wine was drunk, perhaps not enough to sway a hardened alcoholic like myself (I jest) but enough to make a friend very ill. It was decided that someone should accompany that friend home, and given the insobrietry of the majority of the group that was accompanying my friend, I decided to tag along, for extra support (literally) mainly.

On the way there, walking down an unlit residential street at the darkest hour of the night, I managed to not see that a Berkeley denizen had lined the front of his lawn with multiple large rocks. Tripping over the first, I landed face first onto a further rock, striking my left knee and left cheek with the sharp features of a couple of rocks. Ouch. I'll recover of course, much worse has happened to me.

Limping home, I started to question the point of such quaint chivalry. It's likely that had I not been there, their journey home would probably have been just fine. I would have reached my home quicker and uninjured. Was accompanying them the proper thing to do? Sure. But it clearly wasn't the most optimal decision for me. I'll think more carefully in the future.

The week concluded with an early morning attempt on Saturday to fetch groceries from Berkeley Bowl, including the ingredients to make the paleo (gluten free, artifical sugar free) cookies I enjoy so much. Everything was on track to make some beautifully soft and tasty cookies with peanut butter chips and matcha inside when I decided to pop them in the oven for a little longer to 'harden' up. Meanwhile, my freshly dried laundry was calling to be folded and I went to fold my 21 odd colourful Threadless t-shirts. Not more than 5 minutes later, I returned to the disappointing smell of burned cookies. The next hour was spent cutting carbon out of the cookies and I concluded that perhaps I should try and do a little less concurrently in the future.

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by SS at 2:42 pm on Monday 7th January

Over the last two years, I've developed a strong liking for matcha after first discovering it at the Canary Wharf branch of EAT. (In 2011 I set myself the goal of trying every variation of every warm drink in popular London coffee shops.)

Matcha, if you've not heard of it before, is a finely ground green powder made from green tea leaves. In Japan it is something of a delicacy and is normally served as part of an elaborate tea ceremony. In the west, it is commonly mixed with warm milk to produce a 'matcha latte'. It is relatively expensive because production of matcha is very slow, about 30 grams per hour according to Wikipedia.

Matcha varies in quality - the most expensive and highest grades have a much more intense flavour than cheaper variants. I've been experimenting with different sources of matcha, including from eBay (not good), from a variety of shops in San Francisco (very good) and from a variety of shops in London's Chinatown. The best I've found is from the Japan Centre in London.

It can be made into a variety of drinks, I normally either mix it into a protein shake or with milk (and a spoonful of Milo to sweeten slightly). It also makes a great baking ingredient and to date I've made a matcha trifle (rather like tiramisu), matcha, pistachio and white chocolate brownies and matcha rusks.

Fuck Yeah, Matcha! is a particularly favourite Tumblr of mine - they showcase beautiful photos of matcha based food and drink.

Matcha is also great for sufferers of thyroid disease like myself because it has a much lower fluoride content than tea and coffee. It also has a much longer half life - similar to green tea, so there are no unpleasant headaches in store. My favourite description of matcha's effects comes from Breakaway Matcha:

"The caffeine hit of an espresso can be a bit like having an express train screaming through the middle of your body: a deep, powerful, jittery roar. I find the effects of matcha to be just as stimulating but in a more delicate, refined way, as if a thousand butterflies have descended on my body, beating their wings until I'm lifted, gently but resolutely, a few inches off the ground. (Seriously.)"


My latest project has been to try and catalogue all the places that serve matcha in London. The map below is publicly editable - click here to add to it.

View Matcha! in a larger map

1 comment posted so far
Matcha Expert wrote at 7:52 am on Wed 13th Mar -
Thanks for the blog. Amazon also has some great offers on Matcha. One of the best is DOCTOR KING
Finest Ceremonial ORGANIC Japanese Matcha Green Tea (Premium, Top Grade (Grade A), FIRST Harvest
Matcha Superpowered Green Tea). It is only 17.99 for 30g! Currently postage is free! I love this
product. You might want to visit Amazon and check it out.

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