Stripe checkout flow

Stripe launched a new version of Checkout, a payments page designed and maintained by Stripe that online businesses can leverage to start accepting payments quickly and easily.

Given Stripe is a hot name in the payments world I thought I’d compare the UX of the Checkout card capture form to the UX of the same form that we’ve built at my company. I have heavily modified my original post to leave out info about the company I work for but I’ve kept the commentary about Stripe’s flow. The focus on any particular point is likely because it differs to the way things are at my work.

Stripe Card form

Here’s an image of the Stripe card capture form on desktop. You can check out a live demo here.

Expiry date UX

There is no explicit label for the card expiry date. It is only signalled with the ‘MM/YY’ inline label. In Australia it’s common for cards to have both the card issue date and expiry date printed on the front. I’m not sure of the norm in the USA but I wonder if the lack of labelling on expiry date confuses older or less tech-savvy customers.

Stripe have good UX for the entry of the expiry date. They provide flexibility around data entry in this field. They allow the customer to enter the / separator and/or the leading zero in the expiry month, but don’t force them to enter either in most cases.

Stripe’s expiry date field, which expects data in the MM/YY format, has the following functionality:

  • If the first digit entered is a 0 then the customer isn’t allowed to enter / or another zero. The customer can only enter a digit, 1-9. Once they’ve entered the second digit the / separator is automatically displayed after the two digits that have been entered. This seems pretty standard but some sites don’t let you enter the / and instead force you to enter the leading zero before the / is displayed after entering two digits.
  • If the first digit entered is a 1 then the form waits to see if the customer enters another digit or the / separator.
    • If the character entered after the 1 is / then the leading zero is added so the input shows 01/ , ready for the customer to enter the value for YY.
    • If the character entered after the 1 is the digit 1 or 2 (i.e. the customer has entered 11 or 12) then Stripe takes that value as the month and the / separator is added.
      • If the customer meant to enter 01/2X but they didn’t enter the leading zero so it’s showing 12/XX , then they can fix it by either navigating to the start of the field and entering a zero or by clearing the field and entering 1 then /.
    • If the character entered after the 1 is a digit 3-9, Stripe takes that to mean the 1 indicates the month of January and the card expiry YY starts with the second number entered e.g. it’s in the range 30-39 if the second digit was 3.
      • Given most card expiry years are in the 2020-2029 range (at least in the countries I’ve worked with) I don’t think this functionality is particularly useful at the moment but it will become more useful in the future. The functionality still makes sense as the alternative would be to allow a month >= 13 to be entered.
  • If the first digit entered is 2-9 then the leading zero and the / are added automatically so the display shows e.g. 02/, when 2 is entered. This leaves the customer to enter the expiry year.

If you’re using a single field to capture month and year of card expiry, the implementation above seems to work well. I wonder if splitting the expiry date into two separate fields of MM and YY would be better for customers.

The Stripe checkout page autofills properly with saved cards from the Chrome browser and Lastpass password manager, fitting the MM/YY format automatically.

On the Stripe form the ‘CVC’ field doesn’t have a field label, and is just a placeholder with a very small illustration highlighting the 3 numbers on the back of the card. I think the highlighting of the three digits is quite subtle and may not help many customers who don’t already know what the CVC is.

ZIP/Postal code for some countries

Stripe requires Zip/postal code for US, Canadian and UK card payments. I know this isn’t necessary to process but I understand it can reduce fraud. I’d love to know the fraud/acceptance tradeoff being made.

Could Stripe show the ZIP/postal code fields only when they detect the card is a US/CA/UK issued card? I know card issuing country does not necessarily equal billing country, but I guess it is the same in >99.9% of Stripe’s cases. My guess is that assuming they are the same leads to better conversion.

Stripe is using native select for the country dropdown. I think native select is particularly gross on iOS with the ‘spinner’ selector and isn’t particularly nice on web. Interesting they haven’t implemented a custom select with filter functionality.

Pasting inputs

If a customer pastes a card number with non-numeric values, Stripe strips them and preserves the digits.

If a customer pastes e.g. 4242-4242-4242-4242 into the card number field Stripe converts strips the hyphens, converting it to 4242 4242 4242 4242

Field labels and placeholders

The section labels, field labels and placeholders on Stripe’s card entry form are interesting in their own right. There isn’t a clear usage pattern for section labels, field labels and placeholders on the page. In some cases the field label is above the field, sometimes it’s inline, and in the case of the ‘card number’ field there is no field label, just placeholder text.

In the screenshot above there are four fields that don’t have an out-of-field label (they either have an inline label or no label at all). These fields are card number, card expiry date, CVC and ZIP. Relying on an inline label or placeholder can be an issue when the placeholder disappears on field focus and then the customer is unsure about what to enter in the field, or the format in which to enter it. This is more of an issue when the field formatting is complex or ambiguous, or the customer has to shift attention away from the form, gather the details for input, then navigate back to the form. Customers often have to break focus to get their card details if they haven’t memorised them.

Stripe don’t dismiss the placeholder on field focus. Check out the example below – the MM/YY persists on focus and isn’t dismissed until the first character is entered. This is good UX.

The card number field doesn’t have a label and instead is signalled with a placeholder value for the card number along with the card scheme logos in the field. The card scheme logos indicate the types of cards accepted. There are three main scheme logos (Visa, Mastercard and Amex) and in the fourth spot they display a logo that slowly rotates between the other schemes they accept (see GIF below). I’d be interested to understand if this is useful for customers from one of the smaller schemes.

Promotion code

Watch the ‘total due’ in the bottom right of the GIF below for the transition/animation of the price going down when a promo code is applied. It’s a fast animation, but it’s quite nice.

I pressed ‘enter’ after entering my discount code, but that didn’t work. Instead I had to select the ‘Apply’ button which only appeared after entering the a character in the input field. Would have been nice to be able to just use the keyboard.

Weird promo code functionality

I was surprised to see that when I went to put the discount code in to record the GIF above, it tried to use the code I’d used previously as autocomplete. I can’t think of a reason to save coupons in your autofill variables so I assume it’s a small bug, perhaps only on the demo page. It seems the autocomplete token for the promotion-code field is set to fake which isn’t part of the recognised list of tokens.

Collingwood Before and After

Below are a number of ‘before’ vs ‘after’ photos of places in Collingwood and Fitzroy where new buildings have been erected in the past decade or so.

I know that a lot of the new buildings were ferociously opposed by local residents when they were proposed. They were either too tall and/or brought too much traffic to the neighbourhood. And sure, some aren’t architectural masterpieces. But each building was always destined to provide somewhere to live for tens or hundreds of people.

I’ve included the before and after of the pictures, not so much to show that the new is better than the old as that’s not the relevant question.

The relevant questions are:

  • Is the end product really as bad as people think it will be?
  • Would the alternative of a lower density building that local opponents pushed for be better?
  • Now that real people are living in these buildings is it easier to understand the real impact that these properties provide?
  • Is all the pushback to stop buildings like this going up warranted?

All images come from Google Street View’s archives.

Wellington St – 2012 vs. 2019

Wellington St – 2010 vs 2019

There’s a really nice wine bar in the bottom of the new 9-storey building.

Stanley St – 2010 vs 2019

I like the look of these apartments though I wish the footpath was a bit wider at the expense of some of the on-street carparks.

Brunswick St – 2010 vs 2019

I have to admit the facade on the new building could be a lot better but I rarely even notice this building while riding my bike or the tram along Brunswick St.

Kerr st – 2010 vs 2019

Would Napier corner wine & espresso bar exist without the increased density provided by the new apartments across the road?

The photos above show the north-west corner of the much maligned ‘Cheesegrater’ building. The photo below is the south-east corner. My understanding is this development was fought against tooth and nail by local residents. I haven’t heard anybody’s view about the role the building is serving now — is it as bad as people thought?

Elevator notes

The most I’d ever considered elevators before a year ago was the occasional stray thought wondering what inputs go into their routing algorithms. Since I heard a quote along the lines of ‘elevators compress a city while cars stretch it out’, I’ve considered their impact on our lives and cities a lot more. This focus is mostly due to a hypothesis I have that urban sprawl is terrible and that density (with the help of elevators) can contribute to reducing sprawl.

I enjoyed this article about progress in elevator systems and took some notes below.

Innovations in elevators

Weight of the rope

One of the largest limiting factors for incredibly tall elevators was the weight of the elevator rope. KONE, an elevator manufacturer, made a large breakthrough with the ‘UltraRope’, a rope with a carbon-fibre core that is 10% (!) of the weight of a traditional steel rope (e.g. 250kgs instead of 27,000kgs for a 500m, 2000kg elevator).

TWIN system.

A twin system has two elevator cabs with independent cables in a single shaft. The elevators can’t cross due to the fact they share the same shaft but the extra cab can add significant passenger capacity in certain building use cases.

Reducing the number of elevator shafts is important as elevators get taller because each shaft eats the same absolute area into every floor, while floors gets smaller the higher up a building you go.

Double deck elevators

A double deck elevator is two cabs tall. If the bottom cab was at the ground floor of a building, the top cab would be at the first floor.

These aren’t that popular due to passengers’ dislike of transferring to the correct cab, and the number of ‘wasted’ stops where nobody gets into or leaves their cab.

Destination dispatching systems

Destination dispatching systems (DDS) are characterised by the machines in the lift lobby, where you punch in the floor you want to go, and it directs you to a particular elevator.

Every time I catch a lift with DDS I wonder much more efficient they are at delivering people than traditional elevators.

Efficiency facts & considerations of DDS:

  • “manufacturers claim that the average traveling time can be reduced by about 30 percent”
  • …the average wait time for the elevator in a typical 16-floor building with a dispatch system is 13 s, while the average wait time for the elevator in the same building with a conventional system is 138 s “
  • ‘Energy vs. user time savings are a big tradeoff once DDS is in play.” I find this surprising as I would have thought the time saving and associated extra minutes of work from saving users time would far outweigh the energy costs of running elevators in a way that minimises user total time.
  • The decision to have ‘destination panels’ on all floors or just the busiest depends on the type of traffic. In some buildings it’s common for the majority of ‘down’ traffic’ to only ever travel to the ground floor.
  • Some panels provide the ability to enter how many passengers are travelling with the person entering the destination floor.

Other consumer benefits

  • DDS reduce user stress because there is no need for a crowd to rush the lift to make sure they get a spot. Even when everyone is heading to the same destination DDS can reduce user stress when information about which level a cab is travelling to is not broadcast publicly as people will wait to enter the lift they were told to enter.
Buildings 05 01070 g005 1024

Popping ears

  • Elevators descend faster than aeroplanes. The article implies that passenger comfort with regards to changing air press is the main limiting factor of elevator speed.

Other points

  • There are 7 billion elevator journeys per day, and just in China 700,000 were elevators added per year in China (in the mid-2010s).
  • In very tall buildings, almost 70% of the elevator’s weight is attributed to the cable itself,
  • Global leaders in elevator manufacturing:
    • KONE, Helsinki, Finland;
    • Otis, Farmington, CT, USA;
    • Mitsubishi, Tokyo, Japan;
    • Hitachi, Tokyo, Japan; and
    • ThyssenKrupp, Essen, German
  • The paper says “Buildings consume about 40% of the world’s energy, and elevators account for 2%–10% of a building’s energy consumption”. There is no reference, but I guess the 2-10% is only for buildings with elevators otherwise 0.8% (40%*2%) of the world’s energy consumption coming from elevators seems ridiculously high.
  • One World Trade Centre lifts have fixtures to make them more aerodynamic.

London (+) Notes

Tyler Cowen shared some ‘Europe Notes’ written by an American software developer who lived in Germany for a couple of years. I enjoy reading these types of observations about differences in everyday life and wrote up my own on my own time in London as an early 30’s professional working in the technology sector.

As with all notes of this type I acknowledge they suffer from broad generalisation and superficiality. Nonetheless I enjoyed reflecting. Please challenge/correct me in the comments.

Personal Safety in London

  • Getting your phone snatched in the London borough of Islington where I lived is a real risk. Snatching typically involves someone riding past on a bicycle, or two people on a moped and them grabbing your phone. Once a moped mounted the footpath ready to snatch from me, but they quickly found out I was carrying a packet of crisps rather than my phone so they drove off. A number of friends have had their phones snatched. One friend was held at knife point and forced to log out of their iCloud and factory reset the phone on the spot. Perhaps Apple could build something such that phones can brick themselves 100% reliably to remove the incentive of phone stealing (though I’m sure there is some complication to work out how to transfer the right to brick the phone in case you need to sell the phone to someone else)
  • I am privileged to not worry about my personal safety when commuting. In London, for the first time ever, I proactively changed the way I travelled due to threat of crime. I took a slightly longer way home when I left the running track in Finsbury Park as to minimise the time spent in the park. When I walk through any parks near my house late at night I make sure not to take my phone and I will often take my heaphones off. 
  • There are often reports of knife crime but that is nearly always between teenagers/young adults in drug gangs according to a friend who is a prosector. There was a spate of acid attacks in 2016 or so but that seems have stopped. I’ve heard some compelling arguments, including by Crown prosecutors, that legalising the softer recreational drugs would kill the main business these gangs run upon.
  • Even with the higher probability of minor theft, London’s density can make it feel quite safe.  My wife said she is more concerned about walking home in Fitzroy North, Melbourne than in Highbury, London given the guaranteed proximity to people in London.
  • Bike theft is rampant. If you don’t have a D-lock, your bike is not a piece of junk, and you leave it out overnight, it’s only a matter of time until it gets stolen. My wife and I rode our bikes to Oxford and they got stolen in the middle of the day from a busy street because we didn’t have a d-lock. Bike thieves have some sneaky tricks too, make sure they haven’t rigged the bike hoop or pole you’ve locked your bike to.

UK Healthcare

  • Brits are very proud and protective of the NHS and think it is world leading. I don’t think I’ve spoken to one medical professional who has worked in both Australian and UK hospitals that says UK’s hospitals are better. I believe Australia spends approximately the same per capita on healthcare as well (though perhaps there are significant underlying differences in the population?).
  • The pay for an NHS nurse working in London is something like £25,000-30,000 while a similar nurse in Australia would get about 20% more. The cost of living in Australia is  lower than in London too. It would be an absolute struggle to survive as a nurse living on your own in London.
  • My wife, a qualified nurse in Australia had to get her nursing registration. It took over 6 months and she was told hers was one of the fastest applications that they’ve seen. It cost over £2,000. One of her friends failed the English test even though English is the only language she speaks. One of her friends failed the nursing test because she didn’t know the colour of the gloves that need to be used for a particular procedure is different in the UK than Australia. Another failed because the depth of compressions when doing CPR in the UK is different to Australia. Two of those people who failed didn’t bother to resit the tests and took up office admin roles. The fact that Australia doctors are allowed to work in the UK with very little extra paperwork but nurses can’t seems weird.
  • In general, nurses in the UK have a lower level of responsibility than in the UK. A lot of jobs that nurses would do are instead done by doctors (e.g. doctors insert cannulas in the UK).
  • A junior doctor I met had asked her work, 9 months ahead of time, if it would be ok to have a certain weekend off to go to a very good friend’s wedding. They were told that it can’t be accommodated. Doctors have to rely on swapping shifts once rosters come out to make it to important life events.
  • You have to register with a GP practice near your house and that’s the GP you are expected to go to. Good luck to you if you want to go to a doctor near your work instead. 

Household administration

  • You don’t need to file a tax return by default in the UK. My guess is this stops the ridiculous system we see in Australia where accountants help a large number of taxpayers make dubious deductions. I get a monthly newsletter from my accountant in Australia saying with ‘tips’ like “Don’t forget you can claim up to $80 on sunglasses without requiring a receipt”
  • You need to pay for a TV license if you want to watch free-to-air TV or watch BBC on their apps. We bought one in our first flat but stopped watching free-to-air and BBC in our second flat. The TV Licensing authority kept sending us increasingly threatening letters to pay for a license. I think someone in the behavioural economics team took their A/B tests too far — it really was a case of guilty until proven innocent. The worst thing about it all was we did have a TV license before moving house and we tried to get a refund on the remaining unused portion which took hours of chasing up and many months for the refund to arrive.
  • Mobile phone plans and data in the UK seems to be about 1/2 to 1/3 of the price in Australia. Internet in the UK is amazing. In the UK we had fibre to the home and spent £22 (~$44 AUD) for unlimited 100mbps download speed. UK benefits from high population density but I’d be interested to know if that’s the only explanation for the significantly lower price than in Australia. If it is just due to population density a very back of the envelope calculation would suggest that urban-only telecomms users in Australia are probably subsidising users in rural areas to the tune of $5bn, or a rural user is receiving over $1000 subsidy/year.  
  • In the UK rental properties are mostly furnished with all large pieces of furniture, major electical items and cutlery and crockery. It’s an interesting equilibrium that I think is probably better than Australia’s which requires you to transport your. The downsides are that the furniture is often awful, 
  • Electrical plugs aren’t allowed in bathrooms, and light switches are usually outside the bathroom. Electrical sockets and light switches are in bathrooms in Australia and I had never even considered it being a high enough risk to remove the plugs. That said, it does seem that Brits love baths relative to Australians  (our two bathroom flat had two baths whereas in Aus it would be rare to have more than one bath in a house) and I believe the big risk is electrical items falling into the bath. Due to this limitation any hair drying/straightening/electric toothbrush charging is done in a spot that doesn’t seem natural for the task like a bedroom or living room.
  • In what seems to be a crazy equilibrium to have ended up in, whether or not an agreed housing sale will settle depends on whether or not any parties are involved in a ‘chain’. If e.g. the seller is only willing to settle once their next house settles then a chain of potentially infinite housebuyers can form. If one person drops out the whole chain can fail. I had some friends in a chain with 7 transactions in it. In Australia it’s standard to agree a fixed settlement date that gives both parties sufficient time to organise their movements. A chain leads to a lot of uncertainty.

The London tube

  • The tube (the metropolitan subway) is such an integral part of life for so many Londoners. People complain if it’s not running well, but I have had very few conversations with people about how they otherwise view their time spent on the tube apart from it being late, busy or generally dreary. 
  • Transport for London, who run the tube, is one of the only public transport bodies in the world that is profitable. I once thought that being profitable was a good thing for a public transit authority but now I see how much road users are subsidised and how expensive the tube can be for some people. I don’t think being self sufficient is a necessary aim for public transport bodies anymore. 
  • A friend interested in trains told me the tube was running close to the maximum number of trains possible in peak hour. If that’s true I guess lowering tube prices might make it even more crowded in peak hours than it currently is. Perhaps they could charge less in off-peak times — I know if I was with a group of people, getting home in the evening with Uber was cheaper than catching the tube. In some ways, it’s unfortunate that the introduction of Uber, etc. into London has eaten into public transport rides.
  • As an example as to how much car ownership is subsidised in London, a car owner only needs to pay £150 for an annual car parking spot in Islington when the land could be put to much more productive use.
  • The tube stops running when they are too many leaves on the track. 
  • My wife caught the tube to work and it took 70 minutes each way. 

Other London transport

  • I rode my bike to work. I felt safer riding my bike to work in London than in Sydney as the traffic is a lot slower in London. In London the danger of riding can mostly be mitigated by the cyclist being aware and careful. In Sydney I was most nervous about fast-moving cars hitting me from behind and there is little I could do to mitigate that. 
  • I really only started understanding the layout of London when I started riding my bike more places. If you catch the tube everywhere you pop up in different locations from underground and never get a sense of how the city fits together. Getting that feeling made me feel like much more like a local.
  • I could count on one hand the people under 40 living in London that I knew that owned a car. 
  • UK postcodes are amazing. You can navigate to somebody’s house by just knowing their 5 character postcode and their flat or house number. These high-precision postcodes also make filling out online address forms easy. I don’t think Australian postcodes serve much of a purpose for individuals except to slightly improve mail sorting. The UK system makes me think there is some success to be had by ‘what 3 words’. I  think the UK structure has some advantages over ‘what 3 words’ because given you typically because you are always going to need that flat/house number and the country is assumed, you could lower the requirements to just 5 characters rather than the 15 or so of what 3 words. Countries like Australia or US could introduce higher precision postcodes by adding a 3 or 4 alphanumeric suffix to existing 4-5 digit postcodes/zip codes. 
  • Uber had a complete monopoly on London for most of the time I lived there because Transport for London refused to let any competitors go live. I wouldn’t have been surprised to learn it was the most profitable city in the world for them. Competition with Uber has only just begun with some new entrants hitting the market in 2019. 
  • It seems like non-electrified bikeshare (e.g. Ofo) failed in London. My opinion is the bikes were clunky, slow and often had terrible brakes.  
  • Uber’s electric ‘Jump’ bike is being allowed in more and more parts of London sometimes with close collaboration with councils. The Jump bikes seem vastly superior to Lime Bikes and at the moment are a lot cheaper. Uptake seems pretty good. 
  • Electric scooters are still banned in London. I think electric scooters will struggle to make a mark in London as the footpaths seem narrow and bumpy compared to most cities. 
  • Cars often park in the opposite direction to the flow of traffic which is illegal in Australia. It’s a small thing but I definitely had a minor heart attack the first few times I rode my bike past these cars as I thought I’d been riding the wrong way down a one way street.

Work and study in London

  • Law and banking seem to be well paid relative to similar jobs in Australia. The creative industries appear to be paid worse. Jobs in technology and the public sector seem to be paid at about a similar rate, if not a little lower than in Australia.
  • The minimum wage is a lot lower In the UK than Australia. As such, service jobs seem to have a lot lower salaries than they do in Australia. I once paid £6 for a haircut that took 45 minutes. A house cleaner costs about 60% the price of a cleaner in Australia.
  • My wife did a Masters of Public Health in London. She was able to complete it in a year and it only cost £9000 (she got local student fees as we had been living in the UK for three years). Compare that price to an equivalent Masters in Australia where you are looking to pay $50,000 (~£25k) and need two years of study. Interestingly, while masters degrees are cheaper, UK undergraduate fees are higher than in Aus with more onerous repayment requirements.

Personal Finance

  • UK banks are not as user friendly as Australian banks. My unsophisticated understanding is that are also a lot less profitable. Lloyds bank in the UK has 22 million account holders and makes £2bn (~$4bn AUD) profit. Commonwealth Bank in Australia has many fewer customers than that and make $10bn (~£5bn). (NB, these numbers are rough and Commonwealth bank also provides more investment/institutional banking services).
  • Credit cards do not seem to be as big a deal in the UK as in Australia (and light years away to their usage in the US).  
  • Every person under 40 that I know has a Monzo account. It’s easy to sign up for and it makes paying your friends back very easily. 


  • Coffee in London is pretty bad compared to Australia. You pay more and get less. 
  • Chain coffee stores have proliferated in London whereas chain stores like Starbucks mostly failed in Australia.
  • In Australian CBDs there are more gourmet sandwich shops than London. The chain sandwich stores like Tesco and Costa seem to have high staff to store size ratios. 
  • Tips are mostly fixed and added to the bill in London restaurants. I prefer that rather than having the extra task of assessing the quality of the service. 

Not otherwise classified

  • I feel the UK is more liberal regarding personal freedoms than Australia in a number of subtle ways. For example, in the UK people can drink on the street out front of pubs, bike helmets are optional and there is a distinct lack of any newspaper stories about prosecuting small-time personal drug users or petty criminals (which seems to be a favourite past time of newspapers in Australia). Corner stores are open and selling alcohol around the clock. There are some weird things in the UK (like you can’t have a powerpoint in your bathroom) but I think on balance there’s more personal freedom. One big counterpoint to that is the widespread presence of CCTV in London, but I think that is offset by the police being less overbearing compared to in Australia and the US.
  • The day starts later in London than in Australia. My guess is that’s because Australian weather is more conducive to exercising outside before work.  In the same vein, you are unlikely to find a cafe that opens before 8am in London on a weekday. In Australia, cafes mostly open at 6am on weekdays. 
  • Wearing gym gear in public places seems more socially acceptable in Australia than the UK
  • Football (soccer) is clearly the national sport in the UK and there are lots of quirks and rituals around it. An interesting one is a requirement (I think it’s a law) that on particular days all professional football matches must be played at the exact same time and the games aren’t allowed to be televised. This is done to encourage people to go to watch games in person at a nearby local football pitch. One time when this happened I went to a pub where they blacked out the windows, charged £5 entry and illegally streamed the game from a foreign channel which wasn’t subject to the blackout.
  • Off-licenses and fried chicken shops are everywhere in the UK. Most seem so under-patronised that I don’t understand how they can be profitable. I suspect money laundering.
  • In Australia, if you are walking towards someone else and you want to get out of their way you both step left. Job done. In the UK there is no social norm on which way to step to move out of somebody’s way. I think it might have something to do with the fact that in the UK you drive on the left, but stand on the right of escalators. 
  • The fact that so many places still have separate hot and cold water faucets blows my mind. You can’t wash your hands in them.
  • Typically queues will form in an incredibly equitable manner even to the point of extreme space inefficiency. Often when there are multiple processing points (e.g. cash registers) the queue will extend as single queue for as long as possible, and it will only split off into multiple processing points right at the very last minute. For example, at a sandwich store there will be 5 registers open but there will be only one line so people can snake outside the shop door onto the street.


  • I spent 150 days in Estonia, mostly in Tallinn in the 4 years I lived in London as I had team members working in our office there. 
  • Tallinn is a small city of 300,000 people. It reminds me of my hometown of Canberra in some ways and seems like a good place to raise a family. The cold and very dark winters are definitely not for everybody though.
  • Wages and property prices seem to be about a third of that of Germany and the other richest European countries. You can eat out at a nice restaurant for €25 (food only). Tradable goods prices are fairly equalised within the European Union so their relative price is very high for locals which isn’t surprising, but wasn’t something I’d considered much before. For one colleague, buying an iPhone was a big financial decision.
  • English levels are incredible. I learned two Estonian words and that was enough to show I cared. The only time I think I ever met someone who I couldn’t converse with was someone at the cash register of a supermarket on the outskirts of town. 
  • Parental leave in Estonia is incredibly generous. 18 months full pay (up to 3x the national average wage) paid for by the government. There were some people at our company that went for parental leave for 3 years before returning.
  • In Estonia and also in Eastern Europe there seems to be a lot of silent praying on flights and applause when the plane successfully lands. I have asked a couple of  colleagues what they think has driven this level of distrust in aeroplanes but they didn’t have any ideas.
  • At some restaurants you need to pay a very small amount for tap water poured out of a jug  (seems to be about €0.20) but at the same time you get free bread and butter with meals.
  • It’s common practice at a lot of cafes to return your food tray to a rack of trays. That happens in other countries but I felt it was very socially unacceptable if you don’t do it (I’ve forgotten to do it before). 
  • Estonians sometimes leave their babies outside, in appropriate clothing, in the cold for an hour or so at a time. I’ve seen babies just sitting in prams outside the restaurant in sub-zero temperatures while the parents are dining inside. It seems to be widely accepted. If you did this in Australia I wouldn’t be surprised if you were sent to jail.
  • An Uber in Estonia is often less than €3 for a 3km drive between my office and hotel. I don’t understand how it can be so cheap

European cities

  • In general, large cities in Europe seem to be much better places for humans to live social lives than cities in Australia or the US. Australian and US cities seem to be built more around cars, and their lower densities mean that public transport is not as frequent or accessible. I liked the adage I recently heard that you can tell a lot about the health of a city according to the 8/80 rule —  how many people you see below 8 years old and how many you see above 80. I think European cities are well out on front on this dimension.
  • The housing stock is obviously a lot older in Europe, but without as many downsides as I expected. On the contrary it seems that European buildings have better climate control. I can’t believe that Australian housing doesn’t have double glazed windows as a norm. 
  • My favourite cities seem to be the ones that I find least pretentious. Budapest, Lisbon and Amsterdam come to mind. 

Travel in Europe

  • Google maps and/or Citymapper combined with free data roaming in Europe (for mobile plans issued in other European countries) make navigating foreign cities incredibly easy. You can go on holiday without planning much until you get there
  • I prefer city mapper for public transport when travelling as it has a few more features for identifying you are on the right train/bus (e.g. in Berlin, the citymapper app shows the terminal train station on the line which is how the trains are identified. Google maps just tells you which line to go on but doesn’t handle the complexity that lines can branch).
  • A lot of people I talk to are very snobby about budget airlines and think they will be late/cancelled. I once looked at the data in Australia and it was something like the Jetstar budget airline was late 1 percentage point more often than the non-budget airlines . I’m willing to bet on a 1% chance of spending a few hours at the airport to save £50. In general, if the planes are late it’s more likely to be for flights late in the day as I guess that budget airlines are running to a schedule with less buffer in it.
  • Airlines want people to pay money for the best seats but people rarely buy them all up. Check in late as possible to a budget airline flight to avoid getting a middle seat.

Things you should buy

Rob Wiblin wrote a list of things he recommends buying, taking after another list written by Sam Bowman. I found both lists useful and have bought items from both. I thought I’d write down a few things that I think are worth buying that people may not have heard of before.

Milk frother – £5

Rob Wiblin suggested to get your coffee from McDonalds. I think if you are going to do that you may as well just use instant coffee. Some milk/almond milk heated up in the microwave (about 75 seconds for a single mug) + instant coffee frothed with a milk frother is not too bad. The texture added by the frother makes a surprisingly large difference in how good the coffee tastes.

Mosquito bite zapper – £22

As someone who attracts mosquitos, this bite zapper removes the itch from bites very quickly. It applies a couple of seconds of intense, bordering on uncomfortable, heat to mosquito bites. I am not sure the mechanism through which it works (may even be placebo) but I swear by it.

Dark sky weather app – £3

Short term rain prediction is quite accurate these days in places with enough radar coverage. The Dark Sky app lets you see when it is going to start or stop raining in the next hour which can be very helpful, particularly if you you are cycling.

I set the alarm to warn me of impending rain and if I see rain coming I will often depart to my next destination quickly if it looks like I can beat the rain. E.g. if it’s 3pm and I get a notification it will be raining at 3.40pm I may leave work early and finish my work day from home.

NB: I just moved back to Australia and the radar coverage and short term prediction doesn’t work here.

Image result for dark sky weather app

Light alarm clock – £70-£140

This alarm clock gradually lights up the room over time before an audible alarm starts playing. I have the light set to gradually increase of 30 minutes and find that the light wakes me up about 20 minutes into the light phase. The experience of waking up is much less jarring than with a regular alarm. I  tracked the price on camelcamelcamel (an Amazon price tracking tool) and got it for about £80 when it’s usually £110.

Camelcamelcamel is an Amazon price tracking tool. After you’ve found a product you’d like to buy check out the chart with a history of prices. You can figure out if it’s a product that is often available for a much lower price and set an email alert for once it drops below a particular price threshold.

I remember enjoying this short interview (apple podcast link) with the CEO of Camelcamelcamel

Computer stand for improving posture – £50 (or less)

I used to hunch over a laptop a lot. Now I put my computer on a Roost Stand so the screen is at the right level. My posture has improved and I no longer get a sore upper back. The Roost Stand doesn’t seem to be on Amazon, and although there are plenty of cheaper alternatives on Amazon, friends who have bought the alternatives have always been a little jealous of the Roost. One advantage of the Roost is it seems a bit sturdier, slimmer and folds up a bit tighter which is good as I keep it in my backpack ready to use in a hotel lobby or cafe.

I have a macbook so I pair the Roost with an Apple keyboard and a Logitech MX mouse. The Logitech MX mouse cooperates surprisingly well with my mac.

Height Adjustable

Bike with saddle/pannier bag + wet weather gear

Cycling isn’t for everyone, but cycling to work (and avoiding the London tube) was an important part of my London day to day.

An annoying thing about cycling is getting caught in the rain and then being wet and uncomfortable wherever you end up. To mitigate that I always carry wet weather gear and a change of clothes. I have a pannier rack on my bike, and a pannier bag with the following items packed at all times:

Image result for bike with pannier bag

Kindle + Audible paired with Whispersync

Very few of my friends seem to know about Amazon’s ‘Whispersync’ functionality which allows you to alternate between reading the same book on Kindle and listening to it on Audible. I will often listen to a book on Audible while commuting to work and read the book on kindle at night.

Unfortunately you can’t use your Audible membership to take advantage of this — you have to buy the Kindle version of the book on Amazon and buy the Audible accompaniment as an add-on at the same time. Sometimes the Audible accompaniment only costs a few pounds extra, and sometimes it is many multiples of the book.

OSMaps – Free trial or £25/year

OSMaps (aka Ordinance Survey Maps) is an amazing app/website that allows you to see walking paths through the English countryside. It contains paths that you will never find on Google Maps. I have planned a number of walks from train stations to pubs through the countryside. Here’s a one-way route I plotted between two train stations in the North of London

Taotronics earphones

My recent experience with Taotronics wireless earphones have been a little mixed, but I still consider them great value headphones for running and everyday life. They have good battery life, are relatively cheap and stay in my ears (unlike Apple headphones). I had a pair that lasted 3 years with heavy use, including going through the wash twice until I lost them. My only gripe about the new pair is that while my old pair seemed to turn off automatically if they didn’t receive any audio, the new pair stays on indefinitely which often leads to them going flat.

These walking paths exist mostly due to the UK’s ‘right to roam‘ which grants access to the public to footpaths through otherwise private land if the public has been consistently using the path over time.

Muscle Rolling stick

This ‘muscle roller stick‘ is a great self-massage tool

Blender + protein powder

The most valuable change to my daily routine in 2019 is making the same smoothie for breakfast every weekday. I blend a frozen banana, frozen berries, protein powder, spinach, milk (cow, soy or almond) and water with a stick mixer. It’s healthy, tasty and very quick to make.

I chop up a week’s worth of bananas and put them into a single ziplock bag in the freezer. I use chocolate protein powder from who perpetually have a sale on (don’t accept anything less than 20% off).

Before I started this routine, I often skipped breakfast or had a less healthy breakfast. Now I never skip breakfast and drink less coffee.

Islington council transport strategy

Here are a few quick thoughts I had about Islington Council’s transport strategy that I sent to the council.

The tone of Islington Council’s Transport Strategy is the right one. It puts walking and cycling (and similar activities) at the forefront of their goals. There are some concrete actions, but not many given the time frame.  


A few key facts that are important to know:

  • In 2016, 30% of households in Islington owned a car, well down from 40% in 2011. This low rate of ownership is driven by good access to public transport, but also by the fact that Islington ranks very poorly on a number of welfare indicators and a large number of people can’t afford a car (35% of children under the age of 16 live in poverty which is the third highest nationally. 36% of Islington’s population aged over 60 are living in income-deprived households).
  • Almost all of the traffic deaths in the borough are pedestrians, cyclists and scooters/motorcyclists.

Empower locals, and allow them to ‘show, not tell’

The reality is that Islington doesn’t have much budget for a lot of transport improvements. If every change requires external research or extensive public consultation, it is going to be hard to justify doing much. Small things that bring joy to locals won’t ever be done. Time and time again we see that, initially, people are against changes that will take away road capacity for cars. But after the change has been implemented people love the changes. Changes typically improve their lives and their community in ways that are hard to describe. The lesson is that, where possible, you have to implement ideas for a low cost on a trial basis.

As an example of ‘show, not tell’ is in Times Square, NYC. It to be dominated by cars until a transport official went out with traffic cones, lawn chairs and created temporary oasis for pedestrians. “Instead of waiting through years of planning studies and computer models to get something done, we’ve done it with paint and temporary materials. And the proof is in the real world performance of the street.”

Image result for times square before and after

But the changes don’t have to be so large. Check out some of the examples in this report by 880 cities.

Dockless transport

The council has worked with dockless bike share companies and it appears that the rollout of the electric bikes in the borough has been much more successful than the non-electric bikes (probably due to the fact that electric bikes have to be frequently removed for charging so fewer bikes are left to languish in bad locations). Given the success so far, electric bikes should continue to be promoted and the council should:

  • Promote the benefits of dockless bike share to surrounding councils (including Hackney and London city). Right now Islington residents cannot start a journey in Islington and finish their trip in adjacent boroughs.. 
  • Work with providers to promote responsible parking (particularly so as not to impede visually impaired, wheelchair bound, or pram-pushing residents). This can be done by asking companies to specify preferred parking spots for dockless transport + by the council identifying and sharing such locations in an easy, scalable manner for private providers to communicate with their customers.
  • Lobby for the introduction of dockless electric scooters. Currently these scooters are illegal to ride in the UK but they are a space efficient, cheaper, and often preferred alternative to electric bikes.

The strategy around cycle hire contains a few points which require clarification. The points are:

  • “Establish cycle hubs at estates to provide free-to-hire cycle facilities” – What would this look like?
  • “Work with private cycle hire providers and/or the Mayor of London to establish an electric cycle hire system in Islington, to help make cycling accessible to a wider audience.” — If this suggests that local government or TfL should build their own bike scheme I daresay this will be a mistake if the intention is to try and replicate the current privately provided products. I know that in March 2019 DfT announced the launch of a £700,000 pilot to give 11 hotspots in cities, rural and tourist areas the opportunity to trial electric cycle sharing schemes. Has the council learned lessons from this pilot?

Car Parking

The council has an aim to reduce the number of parking permits. There aren’t very clear targets around the aim. The council should also have an aim to reduce the number of on-street parking spaces. They should set explicit targets around these goals.

Right now the council subsidises parking to a great degree.  A parking permit will cost a car owner about £150 per year

The land a parking space occupies is very valuable. If that area was incorporated into an apartment, rent would be more than £1500/year. Car users do pay other on-road costs to government, but in general if we want effective use of land we shouldn’t subsidise parking to such an extent. Islington Council should raise the price of non-concessionary parking permits.

As a resident of Highbury Stadium Square (HSS), I can say that more than 50% of the car parks are unused at any given point in time. One approach to reduce on road parking might be to propose opening up some car parking spaces in private developments with under-utilised car spaces for non-resident usage. Right now, according to HSS policy it “it is a breach of planning and the lease to let a space to any one who does not live in Highbury Stadium”. Changing this wouldn’t require any council effort other than convincing HSS management of the idea. If it is commercially viable it could be a win-win-win as owners of the car parks would get increased revenue, car owners get guaranteed parking, and locals could get reduced demand for on-street parking. Private providers could be appointed by developments to manage the identification/verification of non-resident parkers.

There is no mention of RingGo parking in the document. Right now this private provider has a monopoly on issuing parking tickets in Islington. It would be good to understand how RingGo fits into the council’s strategy. The long-term aim should be for multiple providers to compete for the right to provide parking. This may involve Islington Council being the owner of the booking data that they make accessible to booking apps (similar to how travel agents + online websites can book flights for an airline). 

Safer and healthy streets

The strategy aims to make streets more appealing by making them safer + more aesthetically appealing.

School Streets seems to be a good policy but is rolling out slowly. What would it take for it to be sped up? How could we make some of the part-time closures become full-time closures, or at least altering the traffic flow to be one way?

We have a lot of under utilised schoolyards in the borough that should be made available to residents on weekends and after school finishes until dusk, just as New York has done.

Example from

One of the council’s aims is to “Ensure that streets are great places to walk, rest and play by providing seating, greenery, public art and events”.  We need to have a permissive way to allow artists to contribute to our streets. A good example is from the city of St Paul in Minnesota, USA. They printed short, resident-submitted poems into the concrete and got great feedback from their residents. The council could pre-approve some locations for temporary installations and these could be handed over to a local university or community group to install works that fit within a basic set of guidelines. 

Car club parking

The council talks about car clubs in a positive light which is good. It’s worth distinguishing between cars that are used solely for car club use vs. cars that are privately owned but can be rented to locals (let’s call it full car clubs vs. partial car clubs).

Typically, renting ‘partial car club’ vehicles is slightly cheaper than renting a ‘solely car club’ vehicle. Islington council could perhaps do more to encourage use of partial club car types of vehicles. Some ideas that would have low-cost implementation and running costs might be: 

  • If a vehicle has been rented out certain number of times in a year (e.g. 10 times) then the car owner can apply a free parking permit. This would take liaising with car club companies to verify this information but free parking permits might entice people to list their car.
  • Residents that are currently ineligible to get on-street parking permits due to council policy around new development requirements are precluded from renting their car out on car clubs as their private carparks can’t be accessed by non-residents of the development. Councils should figure out a way for these residents to be able to participate in car club schemes, perhaps by giving them access to on-street parking.
  • Council can advertise the policies above, or just the existence of the different car clubs in relevant communication with residents

The policies above should translate to a much higher supply of car club cars, making it more appealing for people to rent one.

Minimising on-street delivery time

It is great to see a novel approach to minimising lorry usage being trialled by promoting a hub-and-spoke warehouse facility that is stocked en masse, but with the last-mile delivery done by cargo bike. Islington council should promote the results of this trial open and transparently even if it is a failure, to help other councils learn from the work they are doing. 

Setting expectations in your side project through a simple ‘reverse vesting’ contract

*This is definitely not financial advice. For all I know it could be the completely wrong way to do things*

*Don’t form a side project for your company unless you have to. We needed to, to list our app on the App Store*

I’m working on a side project with a friend (with the company formed in the UK). There is a small, but feasible chance that it could become a full-time job one day. As all projects involving money should, we have tried to set expectations about what could happen in a range of situations. We have set expectations on what each of us will contribute, both in time and money, at this initial stage and what that will be worth in terms of equity.

We figured out what we thought the long-term split of equity between us should be (i.e. X% for one, 100-X% for the other). We wanted to have the amount of final equity vesting in the project to be dependent on time with the project so if one person decided to throw in the towel then they were rewarded proportionate to their time investment.

An ideal mechanism would be to have our shares vesting over time, but we found out quickly that was prohibitive administratively (we reminded ourselves that our job is to build a product customers love, not give ourselves shares in the most optimal way)

So we issued shares in amounts that we thought reasonable for the long run, and we wrote an incredibly short contract:

“If either party stops working on <Company Name> before 1 January 2022, the company will be entitled to purchase a certain number of shares from that party for $0.01. The percentage of shares to be returned is defined as the number of days between 1 January 2022 and the cessation date, divided by 1095.”

We could have also tried to incorporate this intent as part of our Articles of Association in the UK but that would have meant we couldn’t use the default Articles and that would have required a fair bit of extra work.

We have no idea if this will hold up, or if we’ve done the best thing possible.

Please leave a comment if you have any better advice!

Parkland walk – the best run from Highbury

Running in London is often characterised by running on pavement and road crossings. The 2.75km stretch of Parkland Walk between Finsbury Park and Highgate is a refuge from all of that. It is easily my favourite run from my home in N5, Islington.

Here are some photos I took from my run on 15 Sep at 8am in the morning which was a particularly sunny day by London standards.

The path follows a former rail trail and is maintained by the friends of the parkland walk. Check out their history page to learn about the history of the rail track (including the fact that it nearly became a tube line!), and for the nature and conservation work they are up to, including the wildlife trail open to the public on weekends.

Given how good of a walk it is, it can get pretty crowded on the weekends and dogs off the leash and prams make it necessary to do a bit of dodging in the narrower parts if you are running past 10am. (N.B. this is particularly true in winter when the path can get quite muddy, especially at the start and end of the tracks where it’s narrower). If you run early cross paths with a number of runners and a few walkers and cyclists (I passed about 20 in my 5.5km out and back) but you’ll spend more time without anyone in sight than with.

I enter from the Finsbury Park end of the track, running over a wide set of tracks that form one of the main entry points for regional trains into London Kings Cross.

As you turn right onto the path there is a large building close to the path. I always assumed it was some type of utility building but it turns out it’s an Artist’s Co-op which has occasional open days.

The run is varied, with a lot of remnants of the train track, graffiti and flora.

This adventure playground and the associated building is owned by an employee-owned organisation that provides free adventure playground play for local kids. There was also a small half-pipe for skateboarding next to the path near here here but it got removed recently.

If you run all the way to the end and up a short steep hill, onto the street and turn right you’ll be right at Highgate Station. You can continue to the rest of the Parkland Walk but I usually turn around here as an 8km run is plenty long enough.

It’s a very popular run, as can be seen on Strava heatmaps. If you want to continue running the most popular options at the north are around the perimeter of Highgate Wood, then across to Alexandra Palace, or if you want to run some bigger kms you could run west over to Hampsted Heath. If you want to run further at the southern end of the track, Finsbury Park laps, or heading over to Clissold Park are good options.

RStudio shortcuts (Windows) – for cleaner and faster coding

RStudio has a number of keyboard shortcuts that make for cleaner and faster coding. I put all the Windows shortcuts that I use onto a single page so that I can pin them next to my computer.

RStudio shortcuts


You can also access the list of shortcuts with Shift + Alt + K so the sheet may be redundant to many. However, I found that having a physical copy next to my computer helped a lot while I was still learning the shortcuts.

Some favourites of mine are:

Using code sections/chunks – Use Ctrl+Shift+R to insert a code section and a popup box will appear for you to name that section. Ctrl+Alt+T runs the current code section. When you are done working on a code section you can ‘fold’ it up to improve the readability of your file (Alt+L is fold current code section, Alt+O is fold all sections).

Re-running code quickly – Ctrl + Shift + P will execute the same region of code that was just previously run with the changes made since then.

Deleting/moving stuff faster – Ctrl+D deletes an entire line. Ctrl + backspace deletes the current word as in most word processing software. Alt + up/down moves code up and down lines in the console while Shift+Alt+up/down copies lines up/down.

Switch between plots – To toggle between plots use Ctrl+Shift+PgUp/PgDn (It’s a lot faster than using the arrows above the plots!)

3 Peaks 2014 – as told by charts

(To see the charts clearly, please click to expand)

3 Peaks 2014 was held over the weekend, in much more pleasant weather than last year’s scorching heat.

Here are some charts that show a bit about this year’s ride, and also how it compared to last year’s.

This year’s 235km ride attracted 1922 entrants, up from 1543 last year. This chart shows that, despite the larger field this year, there were a lot fewer DNFs in 2014. The weather no doubt played a role in this. A total of 1639 people finished.

In percentage terms you can see that the completion rate was about 10% higher this year.
Broken down by gender you can see that women who entered had a slightly higher completion rate than men. Men were more likely to DNS and women were more likely to DNF.

On to finishing times: Here’s a chart showing finish times by 30 minute intervals. Six absolute weapons managed to crack the 8 hour mark and 75 cracked the 9 hour mark.


And the accompanying density plot”

Times by Gender (stacked histogram) – You can see here that a lot more men participated than women.



The (ecdf) chart below shows the cumulative distribution of times by gender.


And on to the coveted average speed section. A total of four people broke the holy grail of 30km/h (including stops!). I was lucky enough to suck one of these gents’ wheels in the Sydney Rapha Gentlemen’s Race last year – I cannot imagine how painful attempting that would have been on Sunday.


The ride results contain data on how long it took to do the three monster climbs. I subtracted the time spent climbing the three major climbs from the total time and called this the time ‘descending’ (optimistic, I know). While there is a positive relationship between time spent climbing and ‘descending’, the dispersion of the points shows the enormous amount of variation.


If you divide the time spent climbing by the time ‘descending’ you can see this variation just presented in a different way.


The following charts investigates how a rider’s time up Tawonga Gap relates to their overall performance. Nobody who took more than 30 minutes to get up Tawonga Gap broke 9 hours and nobody who took more than 35 minutes broke 10 hours. Events like this are all about finding the right bunch to be a part of, so you have to make sure you don’t miss the bus on the first climb.



If we focus on just the fastest people up Tawonga Gap (those who do it sub 28 mins) you can see that the top finishers at the end of the day weren’t the fastest up TG. They all rode together while a few others went up the road (and potentially blew up). EDIT: Andy’s comment tells us nobody went up the road from the front bunch on TG so the  few posting faster times must have been slower on the Falls descent and were trying to catch the lead group or they started in a later wave.


Now, let’s have a look how people who participated last year and came back to face the challenge again this year.

The following two charts show how last year’s performance is related to this year’s. The first chart shows proportional ranking and the second shows a rider’s placing (there were a lot more entrants this year, so a given place is better (proportionally) in 2014).


Three Peaks 2014

This chart compares performance up Tawonga Gap in 2013 vs 2014. On average people improved over the year but the effect size is small.


70 people who did not finish in 2013 came back to tackle the event again in 2014. 9 of these 70 didn’t show up on Sunday but the good news story is that 52 of the 70 finished. The chart below groups people into their race  ‘status’ (finished, DNF, DNS) from last year to see what happened to them this year. Those that finished last year were very likely to finish again this year. Those that DNS-ed last year were more likely to DNS in 2014.


Three peaks is a massive event, drawing people from all over Australia.

The following chart shows which state participants come from. Being held where it is, the biggest representation obviously comes from Victorians but A LOT of people come from NSW for this event, most from Sydney as we’ll see in a second. I know that 20+ come down from my old club  alone.


Using suburb names I could determine how far people travelled (as the crow flies) to get to 3 peaks. In short, people travelled a long way to put themselves through hell. The four distinct lumps in the following density plots show people travelling from Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and WA respectively.