Working at Google Campus London

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I have been working at the Google-TechHub Campus in Shoreditch (the “Silicon Roundabout”) London for a few weeks. It is really cool. In no particular order, here are some things I love about this place:

  • A cafeteria (open to anyone) with terrace, foosball table, bitcoin machine, device bar (to test your developments in many different devices) and even a spacesuit!
  • A small but well stocked library of tech books
  • Very nice team, from security to reception, to admin, to social media… all of them
  • Two levels of office space, one of them (supposedly) “quiet zone”
  • Unlimited supplies of toast and tea, great wifi, and good scanners/printers
  • A ton of areas to sit down and have a meeting, not just the “meeting rooms”
  • Most importantly: the events. For example today I met with a Google engineer working in the YouTube group, who gave me invaluable advice and suggestions, and Tuesday I am going to pitch directly to Google!!

But, of course, there are some unavoidable annoyances, like:

  • It’s half an hour walking from my apartment near London Bridge, which would be great if it wasn’t because it often rains in London
  • Some people think “phone booths” are a place to camp out, eat, watch movies, or listen to music, so when I have a call or videoconference, I have to go to my “secret quiet places” (not sharing here, so they continue to be secret)
  • Europeans are less open to “impromptu networking” than Americans. I miss the New York attitude of “hey, what’s up? what are you working on?” or even better “I heard you’re in HealthTech, there is someone you should meet, I gave him your contact” 😉
  • Overload of “app developers” and “entrepreneurs”. At least the ratio of “hipster” to “coder” to “entrepreneur” (excuse the gross categorizations and generalizations) seems to be OK

All in all, a wonderful experience.

First days living in London

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We have been in London for a few days already.

Moving to a new country is not such an impossible task as some people imagine, but it is definitely quite a challenge.

The first thing you have to do is to forget comparisons. No place is perfect, and no place is completely awful. But one can’t help but to be stuck by “peculiarities” of the place. Here are some random ones we have been laughing or crying about:

  • Convertible cars’ tops down on a 50ºF day. After all a “wonderful day” here is one without wind or rain (never mind that the sky is completely covered with clouds)
  • “Clothes pins” are called “pegs”, and they look at you as if you were mad for calling them “pins”
  • 10 days to get broadband activated at home… even if the previous tenant used the same ISP!
  • “Dryer” is not the same as in the USA. Here they mean “spinning so the water is drained from your clothes”, but not “warm and completely dry”
  • Afterwork beer instead of wine
  • The amazing views from our apartment, and on the way to work
  • The “catch-22” of trying to open a bank account, for which you need a proof of address, for which you need… a bank account!
  • How much the foodie scene has improved (specially living next to the 1,000 year-old foodie-paradise Boroughs Market!)
  • How outrageously expensive everything is (even after living 4 years in New York)
  • How absolutely necessary internet is, and not just for work, but for things such as talking to your kids, or to find out what time does the market close
  • How many cultural and artistic events are going on all the time, and not just “to be seen” or “market oriented”. We’re going to love it here!

I’m sure we will be adding many more to the list 😉

Transatlantic crossing on the Queen Victoria, Day 8

Saturday, May 2, was our last day at sea. We got up late, but still on time to have breakfast at the Britannia restaurant. At 10 am we attended a very interesting lecture by Aldon Ferguson on Covert Operations in the Cold War. After yet another time change, we had lunch followed by an unexpected nap.

We graciously avoided the Guest Talent Show, and went to the Library instead, to catch up on some work and return the books we had checked out.

Before heading to dinner, we packed and, as it is customary in cruises, we left the luggage outside the door to be picked up by the porters. Then we were invited by Cunard Lines to deluxe canapés and a bottle of Pol Acker brut Blanc de Blancs, with which we toasted farewell to this wonderful cruise.

Of course we went to dinner not hungry at all, as usual. But as usual dinner was so delicious that it did not matter whether we were hungry or not.

By the time we woke up the next morning we were already docked in Southampton, and our driver was waiting to take us and our luggage to our new apartment, next to the London Bridge.

Here we are, London!

Transatlantic crossing on the Queen Victoria, Day 7

On Friday, May 1, our bodies finally caught up with all the pre-cruise accumulated stress, by sleeping until 1pm, taking into account the time change. So we headed straight to lunch (“would you like some coffee with your steak and kidney pie, dear?”), followed by a very nice walk around the deck.

After the afternoon tea we worked with our laptops in the Library. My wife decided to go back to the room early, so she could get ready for the formal dinner and Masquerade Ball, while sipping rosé champagne. I stayed and worked a bit more, until it was time to go back to the room, to change into my dark suit and tie, and the hand made Venetian masks we bought this summer in Italy, specially for this occasion.

Dinner was delicious, but the Masquerade Ball was even more. It was a delight to see so many people in the spirit of the event, with their fabulous masks (for the most part). It was also interesting to see the concept of “mask” some people have. From “robbers and cops” or “phantom of the opera” fantasies for most of the gents, to lots of feathers and glitter for most of the ladies, not that many people chose our interpretation of it: Venetian Masquerade Ball.

All in all a fabulous night, while a sad reminder that the cruise was nearing its end.

Transatlantic crossing on the Queen Victoria, Day 6

On Thursday, April 30, we made a resolution to get up early (7am is early even if you are not on a Transatlantic crossing!) so we could have breakfast at 8am and join the fencing class at 9am. There is something wonderfully stylish and timeless about fencing in the ballroom of Cunard’s Queen Victoria.

After the fencing class we went back to the stateroom to shower, and then straight to a Galley Tour, where we inspected the cooking areas. Here are some very interesting statistics we learned:

The catering team is composed of:
• 9 officers
• 10 storekeepers
• 60 bar staff
• 139 chefs
• 70 gallery cleaners
• 188 restaurant staff
• 23 wine staff

On a 14 voyage 90,000 meals are served, and a million pieces of china and glassware are cleaned.
What’s consumed on those meals?
• 70 tons of fruit and vegetables
• 18 tons of meat
• 12 tons of poultry
• 20 tons of fish and seafood
• 30 tons of cheese and dairy
• 3 tons of sugar
• 67,850 pints of milk
• 4,666 dozen eggs
• 8 tons of flour
• 3 tons of rice
• 1,680 pizzas
• 11,200 scones
• 70,000 cups of tea
• 4,000 pints of beer
• 8,750 bottles of beer/cider
• 1,400 bottles of wine
• 530 bottles of champagne

After the interesting galley tour, at 11am, we attended an interview with Commodore Rynd (Commodore of the whole Cunard fleet), with many very interesting questions from the passengers regarding his life, career, ships, and the cruising industry.

The interview was promptly followed by a lecture on airplane hijackings, and the personal experience and role Simon Dinsdale had in the Afghan hijack at Stansted airport in February 2000, with some incredible anecdotes like a passenger being mistakenly identified as a hijacker and how the mistake was discovered 5 days later, or how not only the hijackers never went to jail, but one of them is a security guard at Heathrow airport today!

After the interesting lecture we had a delicious lunch, followed by the movie “The Theory of Everything” in the Royal Court Theater, and the afternoon tea.

Instead of a nap, we decided to walk around the deck, since the temperature was so nice. We walked for over 10 km., and took several pictures of the deck and outdoors swimming pool (where there was actually a man swimming).

At 7pm, before dinner, to wrap up quite an active day, we enjoyed a magic show by Brett Sherwood.

Transatlantic crossing on the Queen Victoria, Day 5

On Wednesday, April 29, as the Commodore announced we were right “in the middle of our crossing,” we woke up really late. You realize how late when the steward greets you “good afternoon,” and you go straight to lunch (right after my wife’s immigration procedure). It was surprising, at least to me, that although we were half an hour late for that scheduled process, 80 people were still to show up, most of the from the USA.

The rocking (“swaying”, I am told) of the ship was less noticeable today, but it continues to makes us feel like we are waltzing all day, and makes us sleep like babies.

After another delicious lunch, we spent several hours at the library, where I revisited some works by Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Wittgenstein, and Marx.

It was our intention to take a long walk around the deck, but it was closed due to strong winds. We then decided to watch “Much Ado About Nothing,” but surprisingly enough the TV program did not take into account the constant time changes (5 times during this crossing the clocks are set one hour ahead, to make up for the time difference between New York and Southampton), so we missed that too. At least we now had some improvement to suggest in our satisfaction questionnaire!

Since the entertainment or educational program for the day did not seem as appealing as other days, we decided to work with our laptops until dinner time.

The 175th anniversary of Cunard Lines was celebrated with the second of three formal nights, although no specific dress restrictions were imposed upon us (unlike the other two with “White and Black” and “Masquerade” themes) other than “formal” dress code. Fortunately, we are traveling with all our possessions, which for me means not one but two tuxedos, and a wide range of dark suits and ties.

Transatlantic crossing on the Queen Victoria, Day 4

On Tuesday, April 28, we finally woke up early enough to enjoy a full service breakfast at the Britannia restaurant and attend the morning lecture “Meteors, Meteorites and Comets”, by Howard L.G. Parkin. While the Royal Court Theater was fairly full, by the time his lecture was over, it completely filled out for the next lecture: “Survival in Solitude”, where Terry Waite told us how, while working as negotiator for the Archbishop of Canterbury, he was taken hostage in Beirut and survived for 5 years, 4 of which he spent in solitary confinement, enduring torture and a mock execution.

After the lectures I went through an easy immigration procedure (basically checking the passport), while my wife was scheduled for the following day; then we headed to lunch.

The ship rocked quite a lot, because an emergency repair forced the propulsion system to be stopped. The considerable fog, so much so that it made the horizon completely disappear, added to an innocuously ominous atmosphere. The ocean, mesmerizing as it is, becomes ineludible when there is fog in the horizon.

We finally spent a lazy afternoon in the stateroom, something we were both looking forward to. I enjoyed reading some poetry, and we watched Pride and Prejudice before heading to dinner.

The evening was filled with entertainment, first by US comedian Rondell Sheridan and his routine about old people on a cruise, and then a Dixieland Jazz concert at the Golden Lion Pub.

Transatlantic crossing on the Queen Victoria, Day 3

On Monday, April 27, we woke up quite late again, so we had breakfast at the Lido restaurant, and went straight to the Royal Court Theater to listen to the lecture by Howard L. G. Parkin “The Constellations – Myth, Legend And Mystery”, right after which we attender another lecture, this time by Simon Dinsdale, in which he shared some of his experiences as a Royal Family bodyguard.

After a light lunch, we went to the library. It may not be the Queen Mary 2’s library (the largest at sea), but it had a very nice selection. I took my wife’s expert advice for a “smart Victorian page turner” and checked out Wilkie Collins “The Moonstone”. I also took a nice poetry anthology, looking forward to discovering more poems by W. B. Yeats, Thomas Hardy, Emily Jane Brönte, William Blake, Percy Bysshe Shelley, John Clare, John Wilmot, Jonathan Swift, Anne Finch, William Shakespeare, and Anne Bradstreet.

We read in the stateroom for a while, and then went to have afternoon tea, followed by some exercise. I chose the gym, which was a lot busier than I had anticipated, while my freeze-defying wife decided to walk around the deck for a couple of miles.

By 7:45 pm we had returned to the stateroom, showered and changed to meet Commodore Christopher Rynd and his officers at a cocktail party, have dinner, and attend the formal Black and White ball. My wife was wearing a lovely cocktail dress, while I was wearing one of my tuxedos and, of course, a black and white bow tie. The sublime sight of my wife adjusting her fascinator in the mirror before leaving the stateroom, with Ella Fitzgerald as the background soundtrack, is one of those memories that make a trip like this so special.

Commodore Rynd told us that there are over 1800 passengers on board, around half of them from the UK, a quarter from the USA, around 100 from Canada, and so on for a total of 25 nationalities. Apparently I am the only Spaniard onboard, although there are other Spanish speaking passengers on this crossing. The crew is composed of over 900 people, giving The Queen Victoria a ratio of a crew member for less than two passengers. No wonder the service is excellent.

Transatlantic crossing on the Queen Victoria, Day 2

April 26 we woke up quite late, with the wonderful feeling of not having to rush, and enjoyed a nice breakfast buffet at the Lido restaurant.

After breakfast we took a walk around the ship, exploring the different venues, from the card room to the library. It is definitely not a “flashy” ship, with the decor being elegantly subtle and conservative. Perhaps the weakest point, as with so many cruise ships, being the artwork, and the most interesting one being the Cunardia (the first Cunard museum at sea) celebrating 175 years of history.

In the afternoon, while my wife took a nap, I caught up with some newspaper and magazine articles I had saved for the cruise, while enjoying the view of the Atlantic Ocean outside the balcony; then we went to enjoy the famous afternoon tea at the Queen’s room, served by waiters wearing white gloves, with delicious little canapés, sweets, and scones.

After some work (grading papers for my students in the Telemedicine masters degree program at the Open University of Catalonia), we went to have dinner at our private table at the Britannia restaurant, which turned out to be much better than expected.

The day ended with a pretty weak musical performance called String Idols, at the Royal Court Theater.

Transatlantic crossing on the Queen Victoria, Day 1

April 25, to celebrate my wife’s birthday and to move from New York to London in style, we boarded Cunard’s Queen Victoria for a trans-Atlantic crossing (not cruising) onboard the luxury ocean liner (V509).

The night before we had a farewell dinner with some friends in New York at White Street restaurant, which was full of movie industry VIPs already invading Manhattan for the Tribeca Film Festival; our friend Jill, who could not attend the dinner, had a very nice gesture sending a bottle of champagne and a card from Washington DC. Then we spent the night at a friend’s house in Long Island (thank you again, Jennifer!).

The plan, devised by my wife, the wonderful Cruise Curator, is brilliant: for less than a one way airplane ticket, we get to move all our stuff (no luggage restriction), and enjoy a few days of relaxed downtime and luxury. Awesome!

As we arrived at the embarkation area with a Jeep and a taxi carrying all our possessions (30 pieces of luggage in total), we feared that the porters or some representative of Cunard Lines would object to our liberal interpretation of their “no luggage restriction” policy. But quite the contrary, they were not only glad to load our belongings to the ship, but they also stored 24 pieces of it so we only had to keep in our stateroom the 6 pieces we did need. We even walked onboard carrying with us a giraffe-shaped table, which is fragile and has sentimental value, and two hand made Venetian masks we bought in Italy for the masquerade ball! 😀

So, for the next 8 nights, we enjoyed the Royal Court Theater, lectures, a nice library, fine cuisine…

The first night, considering the fact that we had not sleep nearly enough, and that we were quite tired from moving around all that luggage, to dine more privately and to further celebrate my wife’s birthday, we decided to go to the exclusive and legendary Verandah restaurant. Chef J.M. Zinmmerman prepared the most exquisite French fare and the wait staff were all quite delightfully cheerful. A perfect first evening onboard.

Good bye, New York!

Here we come, London!