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'Star Wars' Celebration 2016

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Last weekend, I spent a long day at "Star Wars Celebration Europe". Readers of my blog may remember that I'm a fan of "Star Wars" and went to the "Secret Cinema" presents "The Empire Strikes Back" last year along the "Star Wars" theme. This year, the science fiction event was held in London at the Excel centre and covered a large area. Actually, there was no way that I could see everything because the day also involved waiting around in queues for a lot of the time. There were queues to see the props from "Rogue One", "The Force Awakens", gaming, virtual reality, the panels, and even the shop itself.

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I did go to see the props from "Rogue One" (which will be released at the end of this year) at the end of the day where there wasn't a queue to get in. I also participated in the "Trials of Tatooine" virtual reality, which was really amazing. Headphones and glasses and a device that looks like a remote control are given to you, and the next thing you know, you're on the desert planet of Tatooine. You get to meet and interact with R2-D2, see the Millennium Falcon, and deflect laser shots back at stormtroopers with your lightsabre. It was surreal.

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The cosplay was also amazing, and I saw a lot of great costumes like the ones above of characters from "Star Wars Rebels". 

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They even had a full-sized TIE fighter and a small AT-AT walker.

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The above are props from "The Force Awakens".

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I didn't think I'd ever be able to catch a glimpse of Mark Hamill (my favourite character and crush Luke Skywalker), but I was so lucky. At the end of the day, I ran into one of the rooms to get some merchandise and he was right in front of me, talking to an audience that had gathered around. In the shot above, he was discussing the deleted original scene (which never made the final cut) in "A New Hope" where he meets up with his childhood friends Biggs (who does make it to the Rebel Alliance) and Cammie, and he shows a photograph of the characters.

Overall, that was the icing on the cake and nothing could top it. It was a really good day.

That Was An Interesting Month...

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June was an interesting month and a month that I am actually glad to see the end of now. June was a celebration of my birthday and the Queen's official birthday on the same weekend; this meant that it was super busy. I've felt exhausted a lot of the month and it's as if I have not had the chance to catch up and take a break. Many have also been focused on the European Cup (football). In addition, we learned that a week ago, the United Kingdom (as a whole) voted to leave the European Union. This started a spiral effect of negativity, which I have witnessed first hand on the day of the results and in the aftermath. It shows a nation divided, and this is not good. 

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I don't care how people voted because we're all in this together. I think that some things needed to change, but the country still is in Europe and has to play a part due to its geography. What I did not like was hearing people being accused of being 'racist' or 'uneducated' due to the way that they voted and labelling everyone who voted a particular way with a word and lack of research or understanding of what they voted for. I know many people were undecided because of all of the political propaganda surrounding the issue, and many people I know (who voted for either 'remain' or 'leave') did their research. They are not uneducated, ignorant, irrational, nor racist people. As you may know, I do not have a lot of time as I keep a busy life, so I only associate with certain people and do not have time for people who are intolerant nor uneducated. (And 'uneducated' does not mean a degree or a lot of education; it simply means that someone is interested in the world around them and knows how to make decisions.)

I also don't agree with 'punishing' certain countries in the European Union. Germany gets too much bad press based on its history, and the people claiming that 'Germany needs to pay' is absolutely wrong. These people need to read up on their history. In fact, crippling Germany with so many sanctions after World War I was one reason why people were fooled by a charismatic leader who offset this blame and went on to start another war. I suggest these people read up on why World War I began, too. For what it's worth, I think that (as a nation), the Germans do work hard and they are efficient. I've heard both 'leave' and 'remain' sides blaming Germany. Boo.

I think less of the people who got worked up and started to brandish around harsh terms for everyone who voted a particular way. Last Friday, I lost respect for some people who were brandishing about these labels in a negative and unproductive way. It was unprofessional. In my view, what I witnessed was equivelant to the bullies that have come out to verbally or physically attack other people over the course of the week (or even prior to this political shambles). I don't think that anyone should be bullied for their views (within reason), their religion, their gender, their appearance, or for any other reason. Every person is different, and that is what makes this world unique. 

I am very sad to hear about the horrible stories where some people have been bullied and told to "go back home" and singled out. This is unacceptable. Everyone who entered the country legally has a right to be here. Many of the people born in this country actually came from other countries and their ancestors came from other countries. In fact, some of these ancestors would have forced their way here. Perhaps everyone should complete a DNA test to realise how diverse they actually are.

What has happened has happened, so we (as a nation) need to show leadership and unity. Even if roughly half of us do not agree with the decision. What is done is done. 

Now, I am going to blame the politicians. These events just prove to me even more that the politicans are weak and really do not know what they are doing and really are out of touch with the people. I have not seen much leadership happening, and the prime minster seems incapable or unwilling. The British political arena is a shambles. Surely this country must have people who are able to bring the country together under leadership and sort out this mess. That is what they are being paid to do. One needs to step up and work in the interest of the United Kingdom and its role in Europe (and as a separate identity). So far, it's been a cringe-worthy laughing-stock of unprofessional and priveleged people who don't want to or seem incapable of leading. This is really what is hurting the image of the country.

I hope that everyone can stick together and be friends. I hope the bullying stops. I hope the politicians sort themselves out. Right now, we need a true leader. I don't know who it will be, but so far I've not been impressed with the politicians, and they have a lot to answer for. Remember that we're in this together. The politicians are the ones with the money and the power. Do we really even have a vote, or was it already decided? Right now, we need to stand strong.

A major life event has recently taken place for me, and I'm excited to share it: British citizenship! On Thursday, I had to return to Basingstoke in order to obtain my British citizenship certificate at the citizenship ceremony. This is the final step in the citizenship process and has been a long time coming for me. My story is below with some tips on the process that showcase my experience from the start of my British experience.

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I was born in America (United States), and after a visit to the UK with some university professors and classmates in the spring of 1998, I dreamed of returning. I was able to join the BUNAC student work exchange programme, and I used this as part of my job experience that was required for my university degree. By the way, BUNAC stands for Britain/United States/New Zealand/Australia/Canada, and it's a work exchange programme for six months for students of these major English-speaking countries to go to another country to live and work. I was in the programme in 2000 for six months, and I moved over to the UK by myself; I did not know anyone.

I enrolled at Bournemouth University to return to the UK and obtain my Master's degree on a student visa. From there, I had a visa extension and was sponsored for two separate visas by two employers. In addition to this, I obtained my own visa under the HSMP (highly skilled migrant programme) and extended it twice, which was the limit that it could be extended.

I had to wait a month before my last visa extension expired before I could apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR), which was the next step. You were not allowed to apply until a month before the visa expired.

Before actually making this part of the application, applicants need to take the 'Life in the UK' test, and those from non-English speaking countries must also take a language exam and go through a few more hurdles. I spent the spring studying for that test and took/passed the exam in the early summer of 2012.

Once those hurdles were finished, the ILR visa can be applied via post or in person. I did look for available applications in person as you can apply for the ILR in person or via the post. Biometrics are also a part of the process, but this is submitted upon request by the Home Office.

I checked availability for face-to-face ILR submissions a few weeks before my visa expired, but there wasn't availability. The post way had always been fairly quick for me, so I opted for that and thought that it would not take long. (Actually, the lack of no spaces for face-to-face availablility I later learned was due to dodgey people outside the UK buying the spaces up to sell at a premium!) When applying for ILR, you have to submit a tonne of paperwork, and you also have to surrender your passport. You cannot get these documents back, and you just have to play the waiting game. I honestly didn't think it would take so long as my visas were very quick to process, and I received them back in a short time. My brother was getting married in January, so getting the documentation was very important. I honestly believed that I would receive it back in time for my brother's wedding.

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I did not get my documentation back. I missed my brother's wedding. I was very upset about that. In fact, it took all of nine months to get my ILR approved and the documentation returned. There were known backlogs in processing applications at this time.

Please do not make the same mistake I did (although it was not my fault about the lack of availability). Always apply for the ILR in person. If you need your passport back suddenly, then your submission for ILR becomes invalid. Don't chance it. Most face-to-face applications for ILR are made the same day. Sure, it costs a little more, but then you have peace of mind and your documentation and passport in your possession.

I received my ILR in April of 2013. After two years of holding an ILR, you can apply for citizenship as long as you have met the additional requirements, such as not being out of the UK for a long period of time. I could have applied a little earlier than I did, but they are constantly brining about changes to the system and increasing the fees, so I decided to do it. Another major factor was that the last company that I was working at wanted me to go out to their European branch every now and again. I wanted the ability to freely travel in the European Union, and the queues for the "All other passports" was really wearing on me. 

I started the application process for citizenship last summer. The Home Office took approximately five months to make the decision about my citizenship. (Upon receipt of the paperwork, you are asked to get your biometrics done at one of the special post office branches, and I also had to do this for the ILR too.) If the application passes, you are sent the details about the ceremony. The ceremony is the last step. (Of course, you still have to apply separately for a British passport.)

The ceremony is a formal process where you state a pledge and invite a couple of friends or family to share your experience. Photographs are taken that you can buy (or take your own), and you really do not need to speak that much. It was all formal but done in an informal way. Each person is then called up to sign the document. We were told at the beginning about where everyone in the room was from, and a list of countries were rattled out. It was an easy process, and you don't need to prepare for it. You just need to bring a form of identification and the invitation to the ceremony. You receive the legal document, a certificate, a small gift (we got pens at Basingstoke) and additional paperwork about what you need to do after the ceremony. (You have to send your biometrics back to the Home Office and apply separately for your passport, for example.)

I am glad that this final step is complete, and it really has taken a lot to get here. It caused me to miss my brother's wedding (one of the most important family events that I don't think anyone should miss), and it cost a lot of time, effort, and money. It is not a step to take lightly. Particularly if your nationality does not allow you to have dual citizenship. (I personally think they could have given a better gift than a pen; a gold medal would have been nice!)

The cost of immigration is expensive, and I've probably spent around £20,000 in total. That includes cost of visas, photographs, biometrics, fees to the Home Office, solicitor fees, the exam costs, postage, and this does not include the time it takes to get all of your documentation together.

I hope that this guide has helped others know the involvement of what is required to obtain citizenship. Have you been through the process or are you currently going through the process now?

Last night was Oscar's night, so I thought I'd post some Oscars-related (and political-related) street art that I recently photographed in London. I have been rather busy over the past few weeks and have not dedicated a lot of time to my blog. My biggest news happened on the second week in January. I had an interview and job offer, so I was not out of work for long after my last role came to a close at the beginning of the year. You may have remember reading the update about the situation here, at the end of last year. The contracts took just over a week to get sorted, and I've been commuting approximately half an hour door-to-door. Not bad. I'm really enjoying my new role as I'm able to use a range of my skills, which I've not been able to do in some past roles due to the way that the work was organised. 

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Angus - I got 99 problems but an O$car ain't one!

I've also set up a new blog to post my development-related posts to keep the blog themes separate. It's not quite ready to launch yet, though. When I originally started this blog, it was for development, visual design, my photography, art, and personal projects. It was a place where I would add inspiring work or interesting industry news. I would store ideas here that inspired me as many creatives do. (My instructors at university in the School of Visual Communications told us to always keep a copy of pieces that we discovered that inspired us, and I did that for many years.)

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Code Street

In following with my love of art and its tie to visual design, I ended up posting a lot of street art as I was working in east London. (I also received minor degrees in fine art, creative writing/literature, and history. I don't have time now, but I used to paint/draw. At some point when life and the work on the house is settled, I hope to paint/draw again.) Since then, this blog transformed into a 'lifestyle blog' (for want of a better word). 

Because I've established this blog over several years to the state it is now, I decided to separate out my development items from the blog. Some of these were published entries, and some of them were unpublished or still in a rough draft state. Some of these posts attracted a lot of attention, particularly in one development area early on as there was a lack of documentation at the time. I still want to grow that area of my blog for my benefit (sometimes a quick reference guide helps) and the benefit of others.

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Political and Oscar street art by Angus

The direction for this blog will not change, and I will keep up with it as much as I can. However, I do want to make sure that I spend a little more time on the other blog and other areas of my website in general.

I also have plans to add my own design to the blog, which was always my goal and at one point around 2007-2010, I didn't update my blog much at all because I wanted to get the design perfect first. I realised that sometimes it does not matter if it's not perfect and that it was best to just write for it and evolve it when I had a spare moment. So, I've used the themes that came with my blogging software in the meantime. I'm actually not ready to take a break from work in order to do my personal projects, except from a few hours here and there to create posts. I'm not ready to invest a lot of time over several weeks to do an hour here and there of something that will take a lot more time and dedication.

If you have any ideas of items that you would like to see me cover more or cover less, then comment below to let me know.

Welcome, Merlin the Kitten

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The bloke and I picked up a kitten last Saturday. Now that we have moved, we could get a pet. The last pet that I owned was my cat named Bells. I was nine years old when he was born and raised him (with his mother's help, of course) from a tiny baby. He was born on March 13, 1988. When he died at the end of May in 2003, he was just over 15 years old. He grew up with me, and we were very close. I still miss him.

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Merlin (originally named 'Fred' by his first owners) came to live with us on Saturday. We had to drive quite a way to get him, and it was very late when we got home. He settled in well over this week and prefers company as he has never had to be on his own before. His previous owners had other cats and dogs, so he's had to learn to be on his own and appreciate the quiet at times. At times, he is full of energy and just wants to play. Luckily, he isn't adverse to being cuddled and looking cute while he sleeps.

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He is a brown tabby Maine Coon breed, and that's what my previous cat was. Well, he wasn't a pure Maine Coon. His face looks like my previous cat's. Merlin has a white neck and belly and white socks, whereas my previous cat just had a white dot on his neck.

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We named him 'Merlin' because he looks like a little wizard. I won't bore with too many photographs. This has been my first pet for thirteen years now.

Happy Halloween

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Happy Halloween to all of my visitors. This time of year is one of my favourites as I always enjoyed Halloween. My Halloweens as a child were spent in America where my brothers and I would dress up in costume and be driven to the nearest village where we would walk around as a family and ask for candy. I do remember feeling sad when I could no longer trick or treat; I am fairly tall, so I would never have gotten away with it, even if I was covered with a costume.

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I always enjoyed trick or treating and seeing all of the costumes that everyone wore and all of the other people who were out doing the same. Halloween has always been much bigger in America than it is here in England. In America, there are set rules for trick or treating. No one ever tricked anyone (at least to my knowledge as it is considered rude), and we knew which houses were giving away candy as they had their porch lights on. England doesn't know these rules yet, and you do hear of sad stories where people have been mean to others. 

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I am staying in and not celebrating this Halloween, despite it's a rare one in that it is on Saturday this year. In fact, I may be a little quieter over the coming months as I get settled in the new house and the new area. In addition, work is also continuing to be busy for me. I will have a lot of different tasks to focus on over the coming months. 

Goodbye, Basingstoke. Hello, Ruislip.

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I am going to miss Basingstoke. It's been 'home' to me for the past eight years. In December of 2007, I moved back to Southampton from Bath and Bristol (where I was working in a small village near Clevedon in Somerset) in order to start a new job in Basingstoke. My partner at that time, who was from Southampton, also started a new job in Reading on the same day, so we planned to move closer to our new jobs.

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Sunflowers in my apartment

Things were going great then; my partner at the time and I were in the process of buying our first home closer to our jobs, and it was a new build and very closely fit the idea of my dream home. But then things took a bad turn - the chain fell through and then, I assume from the stresses of buying houses and responsibility, he split up with me as he became infatuated with someone he knew from an online forum; she didn't have feelings for him but liked the attention and led him on. (He was actually really abusive mentally and physically, so I don't regret leaving that chapter behind but only wish I could take back the many years wasted with this horrible person.)

At the time, I had only started my new job in Basingstoke in early December of 2007, and the split happened six months later. I enjoyed this job in Basingstoke very much, and a few of my colleagues were very supportive of me. With their help, I moved into a small rented flat and had a ten-minute commute to work as opposed to an hour or two hours one way, which is what I had to put up with for the past several years.

The bulk of my income was paid to rent while some of my items remained in storage, and I viewed it as a waste as I wanted to stay in Basingstoke and at at the company I was working at for awhile. I started to make permanent plans for purchasing an apartment, since everything (except for my job) fell through in my life, and this took all of the savings I had plus some help from the parents. My life slowly started to come together, and I completed on my apartment at noon in January 2010. However, there were talks about redundancies at work and I was at risk, so a couple of hours after I signed my completion on the apartment, I was told that my role was made redundant. This was not expected; I'd had communication from colleagues who also could not believe it. I'd had glowing appraisals and reviews from colleagues, was known in other departments for being helpful, and was working on several projects. By this time, I'd also been there for 2.5 years.

Afterwards, I ended up working in London although I had been trying to find a similar role in Basingstoke off-and-on without luck. After a short stint in a start-up company near Reading (which ended up taking the same amount of time to commute to as commuting to London), I became self-employed and realised that I'd have to move to London. My partner was also working in London, so it just made sense; we'd save money in the long term. 

Although I am sad to leave Basingstoke, I have a new area to explore in a suburb of London. It's also convenient to get out of London in order to visit other parts of the UK. I've also got the task of making my new home my own and decorating it, so readers will no doubt be seeing before-and-after photographs.

Until then, most of my possessions are still in boxes as we decide what work on the house we will have done first. I may not get as much time to post updates as frequently as I have in the past, until I get settled a little more. I only just picked up the keys on the late afternoon of September 30 and moved on 1 October, so it's been a very busy week, and I still have not been through all of the boxes.

Signs of Spring

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This morning from 8:30 there was a solar eclipse. It could be seen across northern Europe, but the cloud coverage here in southern England made it impossible to see anything. The sky (with the clouds) did seem to get darker at about 9:20, and it did seem to feel a bit colder for that duration of time that the moon covered the sun. Sadly, there's no photographs of an eclipse on my blog as we just had a cloudy white sky in Basingstoke.

However, a couple of weeks ago, ast week, I noticed that the first spring flowers were out in bloom. I got some photographs of the crocuses around Basingstoke, where there's always a lot of them. Although the spring flowers have been out, the weather does not feel particularly warm, and we have not had much sunshine here. I'm happy to see the first signs of spring.

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Happy spring, and enjoy your weekend.

Changes and Goodbyes

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On Friday, I said goodbye to my colleagues and clients as I embark on new challenges. I became a web development contractor a little over two years ago, and the design and media agency that I have been working for was the first contract that I have had. I have been there for just over two years and was hired for a large-scale project for a global car/motorcycle brand. I spent my first month on maintanance for an oil company's website before joining the large project that I was hired for.

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Welcome to Shoreditch; please don't laugh at the locals

Before Christmas, they wanted to extend my contract six months, but I was worried about the "two year rule" (in contracting terms, this means that the government assumes you are permanent and will not allow you to claim expenses). The negotiation happened before Christmas break-up, so we hurriedly put through one month with the idea to extend in the new year when we had time and everyone was back from the holidays. However, the company decided to cut costs by cutting contractors at the time that my contract was up for renewal. They managed to hold on to me for one more month as otherwise they had no replacements ready, and I have been super-busy on that project. The past eighteen months have been particularly busy, and we've been under-staffed and promised another developer with the same skills, but that never materialised.

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Brick Lane from the meeting room

I agreed to stay for one month and also received another position right after I renewed my one-month extension. I'll be starting my new position immediately, and that's exciting. However, this means that I will no longer be working on Brick Lane in London or in London for the next few months. The new company is based in the midlands, and I will be working from home after the initial first two weeks. I am happy that I do not have the long nearly-four hour daily commute to Brick Lane, which was slowly killing me. I will, of course, return to London on the weekends every now and again to get photographs of new street art and visit other interesting places. (I have noticed the progression of a new mural on the Village Underground wall, which I was disappointed to see was not going to be finished before Friday, so I will have to return to London one weekend in mid-March to get a photograph.)

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Commute work, commute die

Last week was extremely busy and also sad as I'd been working with the same group of people for so long, and we made a really good team. I finally managed to get a couple of developers to hand over the past two years' worth of work to, but they only had three days with me and were thrown into the deep end a little bit.

The majority of the websites for the different European countries and divisions are now live, and we actually had two new websites launch this week. I will be adding some information about the websites soon. Hurrah! I hope it continues to go well. On to the next challenge for me...

Happy Valentine's Street Art and Update

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Happy Valentine's Day to my readers. I had my free tour of London's new Walkie Talkie tower (20 Fenchurch Street) today during my lunch hour, so photographs and a write-up will be appearing soon. I've also got many more interesting pieces in store over the coming weeks, as soon as I am able to find some free time to edit the photographs and write about them. This past weekend, I was extremely ill and did not leave my bed from Friday early evening. Whatever the bug was, it floored me for a few days. The cough and congestion continue to linger, and I've only got about 85% of my ability to taste. 

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A couple of days ago, I had a wander around Shoreditch and Brick Lane to see if any new street art pieces had appeared. I found this little gem on the Pedley Street disused Shoreditch underground station. The piece is by Graffiti Life, a collective group of artists who paint custom street art and advertisements for brands and the occassional piece on a couple of different walls in east London. The walls of the disused underground station is one of the places that they share with other street artists, though some disregard them as they are not the typical "street artist" and are a bit more commercialised.

I have liked some of their work in the past, and this piece is another "win" for me. It brought a smile to my face because it features in a classic episode of The Simpsons. The not-too-bright policeman's son, Ralph Wiggum, gave this Valentine's Day card to Lisa Simpson. The card shows a smiley "Simpsons-style" caricature of a train with the play on words "I choo choo choose you" above it in the smoke. The train's face looks a little like Ralph Wiggum, and everytime I read the "I choo choo choose you", I hear his silly voice. By the way, I can do a pretty good impression of Ralph Wiggum.

Whatever you plan to do this weekend, I hope that a good time is had by everyone. Enjoy!

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