My year in cities 2014

Last year, I travelled too much. By my final trip to Kiev almost exactly a year ago, cities and trips were blurring into one another, I was on first name terms with most of the easyJet cabin crew, and I'd re-qualified for my gold frequent flier card with several months to spare. I was so sick of being away from my family that I would catch the 6am flight to my destination and the 11pm flight home the same day, in a vain attempt to minimise my time away from home.

The Mars Rover stumbles across a "whoa" object

Umm...what the heck did Curiosity just find on Mars? My imagination is running wild and I am entirely dismissing the possibility that it's a piece of metal from the Rover itself this time.

Now the rover has imaged a small metallic-looking protuberance on a rock. The protuberance appears to have a high albedo and even projects a shadow on the rock below. The image was taken with the right Mastcam on Curiosity on Sol 173 — January 30, 2013 here on Earth.

  Another Weird Shiny Thing on Mars.

Best burritos in London

Anyone who knows me knows how much I love Mexican food, specifically burritos (I know, they're not technically Mexican but you know what I mean.) I have been on a never-ending quest to find a serviceable burrito in London, ever since I moved here two and a half years ago. Recently, I tweeted my dismay that Chipotle are opening their first UK store this week. Chipotle are literally the McDonald's of burritos and while I admire their iphone app, you can get MUCH better burritos in London. On the back of my tweet, I received several messages from people asking me to share my London burrito recommendations. So, without further ado, the best (and worst) burritos in London: 1) Chilango (Islington) - My personal favourite for a number of reasons. Chilango has 2 locations in London and a few more scattered across the UK. Started by a former technologist, the Chilango team have put massive amounts of time and energy into bringing a solid burrito experience to the UK. They go on regular research trips to Mexico and the US to hone their already excellent burrito recipes. Never ones to compromise on quality, I've heard co-founder Erik (@chilango_uk) rant about the availability of fresh produce that meets his exacting standards. Free refills and good salsas are the cherries on top of what I think is the best burrito experience in London. They've also nailed their customer service platform and are genuinely passionate about engaging with their customers. After all, they did host the UK's first burrito eating competition!

From a Qype review: "My chicken burrito was tasty and well made, and my wife clearly enjoyed her carnitas burrito. Rounded off with chips and salsa fresca and it was well worth the trek. Best burrito I’ve had in London to date."

2) Benito's Hat (Fitzrovia) - a close runner up behind Chilango, Benito's Hat in Fitzrovia puts together a very solid burrito. If you're looking for a food coma, this is the place to go. Their slow-cooked meat is truly excellent (try the pork), and the burritos are stuffed to bursting with meat, rice, beans, sour cream, etc etc. Their salsas (of varying potency) are excellent too and it's nice to find Monterey Jack cheese on this side of the pond. Reasonably priced, my only criticism is that there's very little space to sit down so your best bet is to get your burrito "to go" - just make sure you have a wheel barrow  handy to get it home. Oh and they also deliver - nice touch.

From a Qype review: "The burritos are so good here that my husband ate lunch AND dinner here last weekend...and I was so jealous."

3) Freebird (Soho) - If you can judge the quality of an eatery by the queue at lunchtime then Freebird should have a couple of Michelin stars. This is literally a stall in Soho that serves up some truly excellent burritos. Made right in front of you, like Chilango and Benito's Hat, there's not a whole heap of choices to make when deciding on fillings but what you get is incredibly tasty and fresh and really excellent value for money. Their salsas are excellent and the meat marinades are perfectly spiced.

From a Qype review: "Having been born and raised in Southern California, this is one of the very few places in London that reminds me of a genuine Taqueria. The flavour and freshness of the ingredients, and the spiciness of the salsa makes this an excellent burrito!"

4) Daddy Donkey - Another stall-based operation, Daddy Donkey doesn't mess around with its burritos. Operating since 2005, a fellow American calls this his favourite burrito place outside of the US…but he's from the East Coast so what does he know about Mexican food (sorry, Chris!). Seriously though, Daddy Donkey serve up gut-busing, intensely flavourful burritos with a smile - these guys are clearly passionate about burritos. Don't be put off by the inevitable massive queue, it moves quickly and is worth the wait.

From a Qype review: "As fine a burrito as you shall find in London, jam-packed with more juicy Mexcan succulence than Salma Hayek's t-shirt."

And the worst….

1) Tortilla (Fitzrovia) - Ugh. I'd like to share part of a previous review I wrote about this place: "Have any of you ever seen that episode of the Simpsons when Marge develops a gambling problem and Homer has to make dinner which consists of cloves, Tom Collins mix and pre-made pie crust? Remember his face when he takes that first bite? Yeah...that was me when I bit into this burrito. The pork seasoning was just....wrong. Like really wrong. It had flavor alright but it was like chipotle gone wrong, horribly wrong. I thought it might have been a one-off so I ploughed through but no, the taste remained throughout. Carnitas are supposed to be toasty and warm with subtle flavors that let the braised pork shine through. Not with this one though, no sir. It should be noted that I went through what must have been 10 napkins while eating this thing. It wasn't well put together and the watered-down ingredients destroyed the tortilla within minutes." Now, in Tortilla's defence, after reading my review they sent me a very nice email apologising for my experience and inviting me to meet with them about how they can improve. I admire that. They also have free refills and reasonable prices but that doesn't make up for a weak product. Avoid until they sort their product out.

From a Qype review: "Until something drastic happens I'm resigned to a fifteen minute walk to get some 'proper' Mexican food."

2) Wahaca (Covent Garden) - Oh suppress your audible gasps, I'm serious about this one. Wahaca was one of the first Mexican joints I tried in London and it just put me in a bad mood. It's so typical of many London restaurants these days, "interpreting" types of cuisine with bland an uninteresting results. It’s what you would expect a winner of Masterchef to interpret Mexican food as (which is exactly what it is). My steak burrito had cabbage and pickled onions in it…..who the hell do they think they are? To their credit, the wait staff are friendly and knowledgeable, and the food is clearly fresh. But it's not Mexican food and I wouldn't go out of way to go there, let alone wait in the ridiculous lines that seems to form there.

From a Qype review: "My problem with Wahaca is that the food is just underwhelming. There are some fantastic Mexican places in this city, and Wahaca can’t compete with them."

The future of sport

I have seen the future of sport. And it is good. I was playing golf at Poppy Ridge in Livermore, CA and was just blown away by their tech set up. Take a look at the golf karts...

I love introducing this element to sport, especially golf, because it doesn't interfere with the playing of the game but brings some data into play, allowing you to play a little more intelligently. Not to mention making the course easier to manage from the Club's perspective. Is access to data the future of recreational sport?

Mr. Sands

I learned something last night.I was standing on the platform at Earl's Court Station at about 11:50pm waiting for a train back to Parsons Green when over the PA comes a very odd announcement. An announcement came over the PA in perfect Received Pronunciation and in a clearly rehearsed manner said: "Would Inspector Sands please come to the operations room immediately." I dismissed it as a staff announcement albeit strangely different than the normal London dialect that usually delivers station announcement. I was about to plug back into my music when just a few seconds after the first announcement came: "Would Inspector Sands please come to the operations room immediately." Same delivery, same tone, same voice. And again: "Would Inspector Sands please come to the operations room immediately." This was getting really creepy. A dark platform with hardly a soul anywhere and a dismembered voice eerily repeating the same message over and over in the exact same manner. Since it sounded like it could have been a recording, and by now my curiosity was well and truly piqued, I googled the phrase. I expected to get no results, assuming that it really was a staff announcement, albeit a strangely delivered one. Well, I was wrong. Google lit up with results. Here's what I discovered. "Inspector Sands is a code phrase used by public transport authorities in the United Kingdom. The phrase is used in public address announcements in public places to alert authorities to a potential emergency, and possibly its location, without causing panic amongst members of the public by explicitly mentioning its nature. The exact wording depends on the station, and the nature of the incident, for example "Would Inspector Sands please report to the operations room immediately."" There's even a couple of theories on the origin of the name Mr. Sands. "The use of the word "Sands" may be a pun on the fact that staff must investigate and reset the alarm system before a set period of time elapses, as might be measured in a sand-timer, and the station systems automatically switch to a fail-safe evacuation mode.[citation needed] Alternatively, it may reflect the fact that sand can be used to put out fires. "Mr Sands" has also long been used in theatres as a code for fire." Ahh, it all makes sense. A coded phrase to alert staff to a fire alarm going off or something of that nature but without causing undue panic among travelers. Smart. A bit more research and I found some TFL staff saying that it usually means a fire alarm has been tripped and 90% of the time it's a false alarm. So nothing creepy at all. Until I read this: "During the 7 July 2005 London bombings, the phrase was announced repeatedly on a continuous loop." THAT is creepy.

25 Uninteresting things about me

1. My real name is Ian. Ian Alexander Groovesoul Hunter. Ok the Groovesoul part is wishful thinking. Can't you bastards just let me have that?2. I have had a gun held to my head, was pistol whipped and had my hair pulled by a group of Guatemalan bandits when I was 7 years old. 3. Pamela Anderson has touched me. 4. I have been in a plane that has been struck by lightening. Twice. 5. When I was living in Hong Kong I had a total crush on a girl who was on my school bus. One day I got the courage up to talk to her but instead I puked all over her. It went something like "Hey...uhh....I....uhh was wondering wouBLLLLLLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAADJHJSAHJDJHASJDHSAJDHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARHRHRGHHHHHHH!.......*splutter*.......sorry." We're still friends. 6. I once threw a water balloon at my best friend's grandmother. It was revenge for him peeing in my toy box. That's what is commonly referred to as "gangsta." 7. I have an abnormal obsession with punctuality. I cannot STAND being late for anything. I often show up to parties, meetings, events, etc far too early and it stresses me out beyond belief if I'm running late. 8. Instead of taking a substantial detour around a massive dirt pile that was blocking the road to my house, I reversed the car about 50 ft, threw it into drive and floored it, not knowing that the other side of the pile was at about a 65 degree angle. As we hit the ground with the nose of my car my brother, who was in the passenger seat, said "Oh..(ow)...that's not good." Yeah, I fucked up my car pretty badly....but it was totally worth it because, for one glorious moment, we were Bo and Luke Duke in the General Lee. 9. When I was about 6 years old I was pushing the performance envelope on my Big Wheel brand novelty fun tricycle, flipped it and landed on the back of my head. The next morning I was paralyzed from the neck down and had to have months of physical therapy to correct it. Also, I slept on the top bunk and I was too heavy for my mom to lift out of bed (my dad had gone to work) so our neighbor had to lift me down. As a result, I can see through time. Ok that last part is made up but the rest is true. 10. I played American Football in rural England. If you're wondering, I played Tight End, Linebacker and Quarterback. We were a terrible, terrible team but I made some lifelong friends during my playing days. 11. For 7 months in 1999, I ate Hot Pockets every day for lunch while watching Jerry Springer (when it was still an underground production funded by Jerry's failed mayoral campaigns), worked at a sporting goods store and lived in a trailer parked in a friend's back yard. Amazingly, chicks were clawing at my door. And they say the American dream is dead. 12. For over 10 years I had absolutely crippling claustrophobia to the point where I would walk up 20 flights of stairs instead of taking the elevator. Mercifully I am totally over that now. 13. I have never seen an episode of 24, The West Wing, the Sopranos, Lost, or Heroes. It's not that I don't want to, they just seem to pass me by. 14. I have an alarmingly broad knowledge of the Simpsons. It's not part of my memory anymore, it's now firmly engrained in my core reflexes like breathing and digestion. I'm at peace with that. 15. I had 15 hours piloting light aircraft under my belt before I ever sat behind the wheel of a car. I guess it's no surprise that... 16. ...I can't drive a stick shift. 17. When I was younger I had abnormally large lung capacity to the point where I could blow the needle to the end of the peak flow test tube. The doctor made me do it three times because he'd never seen it before. I could hold my breath for well over a minute. For weeks after, my friend Lawrence referred to me parenthetically as "The Boy Wonder." 18. When I was about 5 I used to beat my brother up mercilessly. My arsenal was broad and varied, but my weapon of choice was biting. One summer, my grandmother saw me bite my she bit me back. I never bit him again. My grandmother is awesome. 19. The biggest personal triumph in my life has been defeating my fear of flying. I didn't travel for years and I have been removed sobbing from airplanes moment before they took off. Last year, I flew almost 100,000 miles without any form of physical restraint or veterinary-grade sedation. HELL YEAH! 20. I dislocated my jaw after an illegal hit during a football game. For 6 months afterward my jaw would come out of place when I slept in certain positions and I would drool like a St. Bernard. 21. I drove from Tracy, California to Chicago (2,119 miles) in 34 hours. I don't recommend it. 22. When I was 17 and working at a crap sporting goods store, I managed to get a date by explaining why people can crack their knuckles to the girl's mom. She was so impressed that she gave me her daughter's number and demanded we go out for dinner with the mom paying. Shame she was a total nut job and spent the entire dinner building intricate pyramids with the condiments and sugar packets while demanding that her steak be prepared "over easy." 23. In 2006 I lost 32lbs in 10 weeks. Cocaine's a hell of a drug. KIDDING! I was on a clinical trial for a weight management program. 24. Many jobs ago, a colleague sent out this email to our dev team asking for advice: "I am currently getting a java.lang.AbstractMethodError when trying to use scrollable ResultSets. Any information you can provide to resolve this would be appreciated." My buddy Noel and I, with our frighteningly superior intellects, felt obligated to help, so we replied- Me first: "I'm pretty sure if he parses the geveltefish into the linear actuator, the compound herpes limitations will override any interference by the cranial inversion, right?" then Noel chimes in: "Maybe but you may have to watch the Vibal Translocitor..if that gets over 120 DEGREES, WHOA BOY!!! HA!!! LOL!!! That is humorous stuff there, you thinkin the linear actuator can be parsed!!!" but I think he's wrong: "Yeah but the Vaibhav Translocitor was phased out in release 2.1.s.a remember?! You can't use it anymore, you have to use Applied Funkadelic's Inbound Transmogrifier (John Denver edition) or else you'll never get past the rectal transgression phase!" ...and I was right: "Silly ME!!!! It must have been that Old Crow I drank at lunch!! MY bad!!!" People stopped asking us for input after that. 25. I have the hottest, smartest wife in the world. I'm not entirely sure I managed it but....score! Seriously, have you seen this girl? God damn.

Trip Advisor

Update: I've updated my list and I'm up to 79,1877 miles and I just made Gold Status on Virgin Atlantic. In 8 months. I'm very, very tired.I just walked in the door from my two night work trip to South Africa. While I was there I was, of course, Twittering and a friend of mine @cubedweller'd me and said "dude, what's with all the traveling?!" I hadn't really thought about it but tallying it all up, I have been doing a ton of traveling since I moved to London. Since I moved here, I've done: - San Francisco to London - moving to the UK (5363 miles) - London to Amsterdam - 20 hour trip to NextWeb conference and hang with the Diggnation guys (221 miles) - Amsterdam to London - back to work (221 miles) - London to Paris - personal trip with Deanne and Kristen (213 miles) - Paris to London - eurostar trip back (213 miles) - London to San Francisco - work trip to Web 2.0 expo (5363 miles) - San Francisco to London - flight back from Web 2.0 (5363 miles) - London to Budapest - personal trip with Deanne (902 miles) - Budapest to London - flight back from BUD (902 miles) - London to Paris - quick weekend trip with Andrew and Emily (213 miles) - Paris to London - Eurostar back (213 miles) - London to Johannesburg - 2 night work trip (5642 miles) - Johannesburg to London - flight back (5642 miles) - London to New York - work trip (3459 miles) - New York to London - back home (3459 miles) - London to Paris - start of trip with Jessica and Deanne (213 miles) - Paris to Bruges - trip with Jessica and Deanne (167 miles) - Bruges to Antwerp - trip with Jessica and Deanne (51 miles) - Antwerp to Amsterdam - trip with Jessica and Deanne (81 miles) - Amsterdam to Paris- trip with Jessica and Deanne (265 miles) - Paris to London - trip with Jessica and Deanne (213 miles) - London to Paris - weekend trip with Deanne (213 miles) - Paris to London - Eurostar back (213 miles) - London to Stockholm - personal trip (889 miles) - Stockholm to London - flight back (889 miles) - London to Boston - work trip (3269) - Boston to New York - more East coast work (190 miles) - New York to London - back to work (3459 miles) - London to Helsinki - work trip (1131 miles) - Helsinki to London - flight back (1131 miles) - London to San Francisco - Gram's funeral (5363 miles) - San Francisco to London - flight back (5363 miles) - London to Marrakesh - Anniversary trip (1432 miles) - Marrakesh to Madrid - first leg of the trip home (652 miles) - Madrid to London - second leg of the trip home (787 miles) - London to Los Angeles - Thanksgiving trip part 1 (5448 miles) - Los Angeles to Cancun - Young World Leaders Summit (2111 miles) - Cancun to Los Angeles - Return trip (2111 miles) - Burbank to San Jose - First part of Thanksgiving (294 miles) - San Francisco to New York - Work trip (2570 miles) - New York to London - Return home (3463 miles) 30,291 miles so far and with trips to New York, Dublin and Krakow next month, I'll be well over 40,000 by the end of June. Didn't I use to not enjoy flying or something? Suffice to say...I'm pretty tired.

Class 3 Kill-Storm!

To quote the venerable Kent Brockman, "The National Weather Service has upgraded Springfield's blizzard from 'Winter Wonderland' to a 'Class 3 Kill-Storm!'"We have our very own Class 3 Kill-Storm here in England. 85mph winds and all that fun stuff. But typical England, it rains sideways and there's apocalyptic thunder and lightning one minute and then the next minute it's sunny. Lather, rinse, repeat. Ad nauseum. map.JPG

America (F**k yeah!)

On Tuesday Deanne and I were able to do our small part in the democratic process by voting in the primary. In London. Yes an ocean is not enough to stop the Super (Duper) Tuesday virus from spreading and some quick research yielded a "Vote From Abroad" voting event right here in London. Coincidentally it was right next to our old apartment which made life easier. So after a quick Singaporean dinner at Kiasu we went round the corner to Porchester Hall.Now I fully expected 15 or 16 people quietly lining up in front of an old woman with some juice and cookies. Perhaps the woman might have been wearing some sort of festive straw hat. And maybe a badge. But no! We turned the corner and were confronted by cheering throngs, thrusting their Hillary or Obama signs into the air as they chanted their respective slogans. There were police, cameramen, journalists, photographers. The line to vote stretched out of the building. As we filled in our forms, several passers-by (and I'm not making this up) actually heckled us. What made it even weirder is that they were respectable-looking old men and women. One old woman walked by and said "I can't wait for the Pakistani elections, at least THEY'LL do it with some decorum." Snotty bitch. But before we could all register our disgust, a fellow American piped up with "At least we don't blow people up," which technically isn't true but is still funny and put the skank in her place. One other older "gentleman" walked past a lady holding a Hillary sign and said "Why don't you call it "Clinton" because Hillary is a lie!" We all looked at each other with a collective "....what?" After the drive-by hecklings, we made our way into the haul where we were efficiently ushered into the registration area where our forms were collected and our IDs verified. Then it was into the main hall. Which was absolutely jampacked! There must have been two to three hundred people in there. Bunting on the walls, balloons everywhere, the aforementioned juice and cookies, people wearing hats. It was a real party (get it?) atmosphere. We cast our votes on the stage where, weirdly enough, everyone could see who you were voting for as you deposited your ballot into conspicuously labeled bins. As you went off the stage you were ushered back into the hall where everyone was smiles. People were really having a great time. A great time voting. Yes, you read that correctly. I don't think the Brits could do anything like this with the local Womens Institute running parish council elections at the Village Hall. Hell, I don't even think Americans would do this at a normal polling station. This felt more like a political party convention than an election station. You half expected Jesse Jackson to walk on stage and start addressing the audience in his delightfully clipped prose. So after all was said and done I (can't speak for Deanne) was bursting with patriotism as the 200,000 eligible American voters in London were, for a moment, united by the democratic process. It filled me with pride and some other emotions that are weird and deeply confusing. Quick, I need some Taco Bell.

(Doesn't the guy in that last photo look like Rob Cordry?)

Olde London Town

So I've been here for a month now, Deanne is finishing her third week. What have we been up to? What's life like here?Well life in London is good so far. We've been very, very busy with the boring day to day stuff, as well as the fun stuff. I've done three weeks at my new job at Virgin Management (aka the mothership) and I'm really enjoying it. We just moved from our serviced apartment in Bayswater to a hotel on Gloucester Road. We'll be here for a total of 16 nights until we move into our house in Fulham. I'm excited to move in and get settled - I think it will feel like we really live here once we're in a proper, permanent house. A few more observations about life in London: - traveling by Tube on the weekend is a lot like driving on the weekend. Slow and frustrating. They do the majority of repair work on the weekends and will often shut down entire lines. At one point early this month it was physically impossible to get to Victoria station by Tube. THREE lines go through Victoria Station. - traveling by Tube at rush hour is a lot like the Bay Area during rush hour. Slow, crowded, dark, smelly, evil. But, I actually quite like the Tube - it's cheap and relatively quick. At least I don't have to drive. - the British are a very outdoorsy people, they like doing things outdoors where everyone can see them. Like drinking, shouting, and puking. I've seen more puke in the last month than I've seen...ever. - In the 1980s when the IRA had a penchant for using trash cans as convenient holders for their bombs, most public trash cans were either removed or relocated to low traffic areas. As a result, Londoners got used to leaving their empty beer can or candy bar wrapper pretty much wherever they wanted. That's right London, you've got a serious litter problem. - The massive influx of Eastern Europeans into England has revolutionized customer service. England is not known for its customer service but the last few years has seen a dramatic improvement, especially in restaurants. - I'd forgotten how much I enjoy living in a city. You can walk out your front door and be in the thick of things almost immediately. You don't notice shitty weather or darkness as much because there's constant activity.


Hello sir, might I interest you in a nice cognac from 1893? Only £1075 a bottle, quite a bargain.No? Not old enough and/or expensive enough, you say? Ok, well how about a bottle from 1865? A steal at £1949, and in no way does it taste like gasoline. Fantastic. Still no? My, sir is quite the connoisseur! Well we do have a bottle of scotch for £5000 from the 1950s that sir might like. Yes? Excellent choice sir, I'll wrap it up right away! need to wrap it up? You'll just drink it here? I see, well done sir. cognac1.jpg cognac2.jpg


Oh England, you are not a land of beautiful people. I suppose stereotypes have to start somewhere and England's reputation of producing bad teeth'd trolls, I can report, is proving accurate.Now, technically being of British lineage, I feel I can say all of this with a sense of cheeky (British) self-deprecation. We/they are not an attractive people. At all. Now of course you do get the occasional exception to the rule, just like anywhere. David Beckham, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Keira Knightley, Jude Law to name but a few, are beautiful people. But for the most part we get the type of sun-fearing trolls that you'd expect in a country that sees the sun for one hour some time in August. Even the moderately attractive people, there's just something not right. You see someone from a distance and as they get closer..."Oh hey now, he/she looks pretty cute!....yeahhhoohhh....oh..oh dear....oh that's a shame." You look at them carefully and there's just something not right. Something ever so slightly off. Eyes ever so slightly too far apart or forehead just a little too big to land a helicopter on. Perhaps it's all due to comparison. As I noted in my previous post, London is full of beautiful foreigners - perhaps seeing them in contrast to the average Brit isn't helping the situation. Maybe THAT'S why they're so adamant about cracking down on immigration. I see what you're up to! But in all seriousness, one thing has struck me since I arrived here. Everywhere you look, in pubs, on the tube, on the street, the Brits are smiling a lot more. It's really nice. I don't know what they're smiling about and frankly I don't care but it sure does make them seem more attractive than their permanently pouting European neighbors. So with that, I declare Britain the winners in this little Tete