Hobart

Day 0 – Friday, 22nd July

One lesson from this trip to Tasmania; a good holiday starts one day before it starts.

In the past I’ve taken taxis or trains to the airport on the day of my flight all the way from Western Sydney. This adds about an hour and a half to my trip. When the flight itself takes less than two hours, that is a pretty significant amount of time spent between places I actually want to be.

This trip included my first experiment with an overnight in the city. For reasons that will become clear in Day 1, we were booked on a 7:30am flight to Hobart. Add arriving an hour before take-off, and I’d have had to wake up around 4:00.

Waking up at 6:00 instead feels like luxury by comparison, and the early Uber (another first!) through the city was a pleasure as well. Sydney actually looks very nice in the morning sun before it gets cluttered up with cars and people.

Salamanca Place
Salamanca Place – every Saturday off-limits to cars, and filled with markets

Day 1 – Saturday, 23rd July

The reason for the unholy early departure? Salamanca Markets. Held once a week on Saturday morning in the prettiest street, in the friendliest city, on the most beautiful island in the world.

The markets run from early morning till about three in the afternoon. There are exactly two direct flights from Sydney to Hobart. The one at 4pm misses the market, so 7:30am was the only choice that avoided a stop-over in Melbourne and a relatively late arrival to the markets.

Our flight landed a bit earlier than expected. Hobart airport is small. No, no, really small. We exited the plane from the front, only to find a disturbing lack of air-bridge to meet us. One step past the doorway onto the metal stairs to the tarmac the first blast of antarctic air greeted us. I had joked about this scenario during the flight, but it wasn’t nearly as funny when it was real. I prepared with three layers that proved less adequate to the task than I had hoped.

Shadows on a wall in Battery PointLuckily it didn’t take long to get through the terminal, through the heated shack of the car rental, and into little i20 companion for the following 6 days. A zippy little demon in an orange colour I could only describe as Burnt Tamarind*. The drive from the airport to Hobart is very straightforward… except for the part where Salamanca Markets block of a significant number of streets around Salamanca Place. This would not have been a problem if not for the fact that my chosen hotel was in a side-street off Salamanca. Luckily road-side parking is not particularly hard to come by.

The markets were well-worth the hassle of working around an early flight. The stalls hawk a lot of the typical market wares; jams, sauces, candy, arts and crafts. But overall the calibre is above your average market. There is also a remarkable general lack of repetition between stalls. Granted; knives with wooden handles could be found in several places, and there were several stalls of woollen clothing and leather bags. But they were not the same clothes or bags. It’s sad that is remarkable, but there it is.

 

Salamanca Place, at night after wet snow has molten.

The markets also provided an immediate introduction to Australian snow. Wet snow, almost rain, but when it flurries in that unmistakable way it most definitely isn’t rain anymore. The breeze through the markets was very reminiscent of Winter Magic in Katoomba. Specifically: freezingly unpleasant to the hands and face. Sadly it wasn’t quite cold enough for snow to gather in Hobart itself to add some further magic to the scene.

Most delightfully (to me), at the end of the market, when time came to rush back for a final purchases before the freezing vendors were ready to pack up early, we encountered an Oliebollen stand. Four fruit ones with powdered sugar and four raisin ones with cinnamon sugar disappeared faster than I would have believed possible. I blame the weather.

(* in-joke in case anyone from work wanders past… basically: a dark orange Hyundai)

The Huon River, about 45 minutes south of Hobart
The Huon River – blustery and freezing, but also very peaceful and beautiful

Day 2 – Sunday, 24th July

Time for our first road-trip. There are roughly three directions out of Hobart; south, north-west and east. Our first choice was south towards the Huon Valley where they grow beautiful pale yellow pine wood.

Before setting off, Abbey and I had breakfast at the Retro Cafe on Salamanca Place. Coffee and Eggs Benedict. On two further mornings I broke the “no repeat visits” rule to grab a quick coffee from the cafe. I could blame it on the horrible convenience of its position, but it really was also just good coffee.

Salamanca Place at night with fairy lights

The great thing about Hobart is how far you can get in just 30 minutes. Let me explain. In Sydney, you cannot really get anywhere near to escaping the city in anything less than an hour. From Hobart, within 10 minutes you’ll be wondering where the city went. I’m pretty certain nothing is more than 30 minutes away. This weird scale distortion holds within Hobart itself as well. On more than one occasion I over-estimated distances, because looking at Google Maps counting blocks usually gives me a pretty good sense of distance. Hobart blocks are smaller. Much smaller. You can probably Tetris 4 Hobart blocks into the space of a single Sydney block.

Metal art outline of a man at Salamanca Square

This makes a road-trip out of Hobart a very convenient adventure. We spent the day not much further than 45 minutes away from home-base, but it felt like touring far into the wilderness.

It also quickly became clear that on Tasmania you’re never very far away from water. It’s baffling to consider how high prices get bid in Sydney for the tiniest bit of water frontage, when on the island it comes by the kilometre. We must’ve spent a good two-thirds of the 120km we drove right on the waters’ edge with no house in sight.

We had a brief stop along the way at Willie Smith’s Apple Shed. Sadly we were out of coins at the time, or we’d have had a wander through the “Apple Museum”, if for no other reason than to find out what it might be.

We stopped in Huonville to have a quick look around. Small Tasmanian towns on Sunday are not as open as we were used to. We managed to get a look at some rickety antiques, but otherwise were quickly back on our way. It was peaceful out there though, I would have liked to sit down somewhere with a hot beverage and just enjoy the crisp smell and the silence.

A little further on our tour we could not resist the stop at Pagan Cider for some cellar-door tasting. I’ve had quite a lot of cider, but nothing quite as authentically flavoured as Pagan. The Cerise has a deliciously tart cherry flavour – not that of a sweet additive (I’m not looking at you, Rekorderlig), but of actual cherries. And the Apricot cider was mouth-watering on first scent. Four bottles of Cerise and a half litre of Apricot formed the first part of our serious return-flight over-weight.

We also stopped at Peppermint Bay, where I had been before when my parents were over for their first Australian trip. That time we took a boat-trip out, which turned us in a captive audience for spending at this restaurant. It was much more pleasant to have a quick quiet coffee and a delicious brownie looking out over the Salmon farms in the bay.

And then to be able to leave again at our own timing.

Too tired to go out for dinner, I hunted down some Thai on Menulog and went for a wander down to Battery Point to retrieve the Honey Pork Ribs and Rocky Road Chicken … Thai Fusion you see. Also, spectacularly tasty. Hampden Road looks like the place to be in Hobart; next time I may need to pick accommodation somewhere up there.

Salamanca Square; a statue of a dog papparazzi taking a picture of a bunny Marilyn Munroe
Salamanca Square – hiding place of metal art and delicious food

Day 3 – Monday, 25th July

Monday was to be a slower day with a lunch-time trip into the CBD to grab coffee at Cultura.A mediterranean looking building on Hampden Road As it turns out, besides serving the most delicious coffee with a vague hint of forest and sunshine, they also serve a fantastic Italian lunch menu. Not knowing what to expect I ordered a beef and veal gnocci which sounded somewhat unremarkable on paper. I could happily re-visit Cultura on a daily lunch basis (if lunch didn’t come catered at work); it is most definitely “just” a pasta dish, but it was prepared most flawlessly. Not a bite was the slightest bit chewy, or too hot, or too bland.

It would have made for a perfect lunch if but for one glitch. While detoured into a pet shop on our way back to the car, a parking inspector decided to check on our car that must have been all of 5 minutes out of funding. We saw him stick something to the windscreen, wander back to the parking meter and then disappear as we were walking up to the car.

It is annoying to have a fine overshadowing an otherwise fantastic lunch. What made up for it somewhat was the amusement over the hefty $40 cost of the fine. Hobart is most definitely a different world altogether.

Shiver Me Timbers on Salamanca Place

I spent the rest of the afternoon and early evening exploring around on foot by myself. I couldn’t resist stopping by Normann & Dann on Salamanca Place for some chocolates. Spoiler: also better than their looks betray. Followed by a slow meandering wander through Battery Point with my 6D at the ready for anything worth shooting.

Everything is so much more picturesque than I can afford to show off in this single blog post for fear it’d take forever to load. I think the latitude affords the city a somewhat stretched golden hour in the evening. Probably also in the morning, but I didn’t have occasion to find out on account of sleeping like a log.

What also amused me was the prevalence of piratey-themed everything around the place; from candy and books to shop signs. Not excessively so, but most definitely more prevalent than in a city like Sydney. I suppose leaning off the mountain into a cozy little harbour with quite so many coves and hideaways about has a way of playing with the imagination.

Bottom of Pinnacle Road with snow against a rockface
Bottom of Pinnacle Road – start of the climb to the summit of mt. Wellington

Day 4 – Tuesday, 26th July

My birthday. The intent was to drive to the summit of mt. Wellington overlooking Hobart for the dual purpose of getting some more pictures of the sights, and to stand in some proper full-blown snow in Australia for only the second time.

Badly done sign for the Fern Tree Inn at the bottom of mt. Wellington

Alas, it was not meant to be. I should have looked ahead on the internets to look for road closures. It turns out that Pinnacle road leading to the summit is kinda prone to snowing in over winter. There were several “guards” at the turn making sure only local traffic was allowed onto the road. Quite a few people were in the same predicament and making the most of it at the foot of the mountain. There was just about enough snow for atmosphere, and someone had jokingly created the tiniest snowman on the corner of the street.
Six-inch snowman at the bottom of mt. Wellington

We would have had a stop at the Fern Tree Inn at the foot of the summit, but for two impediments; Google recommended against it with a dismal 3-out-of-5 score, and the place was closed. I think both factors saved us from what would likely have been an exceedingly disappointing coffee experience.

I took a few more shots around the inn, including their horrendous sign. Full metal, a good meter-and-a-half across, with a poorly pixelated image of the ridge of the summit (see above). If there is a more succinct way to capture not caring, I do not know of it.

We ended up heading back into Hobart itself for some nice sushi at “Sush Track” (not a typo), with the most twee electronic menu including all sorts of train-themed animations when placing orders or calling for waitstaff. This, followed by a wander uphill to Daci & Daci Bakers to just have a coffee… but alas, their impressive display of cakes suckered both me and Abbey into eating more than we should have. The Hazelnut Dacquoise was fantastic.

I spent the afternoon digesting and reading back in the hotel.

For dinner I chose pizza at Hearth; a very homely little restaurant inside what looks to be just an ordinary home. There’s nothing quite like a meal next to a wood fire. And for dessert (exploding already on the way in), I had to finally try what delights The Honey Badger had on offer. Although my Belgian Waffles with Fruit, crumbled Tim Tams and salted caramel ice cream wasn’t as Belgian as I had hoped, the ice cream was spectacular enough to more than make up for it. I wish I had had longer to sample the rest of their menu. Alas.

Monument to Abel Tasman
Monument to Abel Tasman – on Salamanca Place, a monument to the Dutch explorer

Day 5 – Wednesday, 27th July

Wednesday was reserved for MONA.
Boats in the harbour reflected in the water

I somehow feel like I should not say too much about the Museum of Old and New Art. It is a peculiar place. The logo consists of a “+” and an “x”, which prominently feature in the guidance app on the iPhones that everyone is handed at the start of the exhibit.

 

Close-up detail of the Abel Tasman monument

“+” is for Love.
“x” is for Hate.

For those are the two emotions supposed to capture your feelings about the exhibits. They are all intended to elicit only the most extreme feelings.

I found myself at a loss to choose a few times, but it is remarkable how well it works for the most part.

Love: the duelling whiteboard marker and brush on mechanical arms trying to fight over who controls the m mounted whiteboard.

Hate: the artificial digestive tract that had just prior to our arrival used “the toilet”, leaving a perfectly formed (and smelly) stool on a plate.

Love: the furry couch that whimpers when you walk past it without paying attention, purrs when you pet it, and barks when you sit down.

Hate: the 30 synchronised screens showing different singers doing simultaneous renditions of Madonna songs.

For a mere $75,000 you can become an Eternity member of the museum and have your ashes post-mortem made part of the display of Faberge-like eggs that are actually urns. Three spaces already occupied.

Tractor statue outside Coal River Farm
Coal River Farm – metal tractor art out front the farm shop

Day 6 – Thursday, 28th July

The final day was meant to be a completely stress-free road-trip out west.

Southern aspect of mt. Wellington across the river

I recognised many of the places I had been with my parents as well. I had completely forgotten our side-trip into Richmond stopping at Puddle Duck, and the Wicked Cheese Company. I even think I recognised the woodwork shop we went through together. I think we had really great scones as well, but I could not recognise which of the many old houses along the road might have been the one we stopped at. None of them jumped out from my memory.

What rushed the afternoon along was the sudden realisation when Abbey tried to check into the flight back to Sydney, that her ticket was for September 28th, not July. A most curious mishap, but enough reason to cut the road-trip short and head for the airport instead.

Within 30 minutes the ticket was changed with a minimum of drama.

The only remaining fright was our 12kg post box of souvenirs, including Sloe Gin, Sheeps-Whey-Vodka and various other odds and ends. At the other end of our flight, the box appeared to be… leaking.

We both tried to detect the smell to guess at the victim.
Nothing cheesey.
Nothing volatile enough for alcohol.
A puzzle.

In the end it turned out the MacGuyvered ice brick (a lunch container with ice cubes in it) had started leaking after melting, and was leeching through the box.

I had a great 6 days. I wish I’d had time for 6 more, if for no other reason than to work my way systematically though Daci & Daci’s cakes.

Letterboxes in a bend of the road.

Long Time between Drinks

Presenting…

It has been a long time since my last post. I have not much for an excuse other than being busy at work.

I foolishly volunteered to do a 45 minute presentation slot at DevCamp which was held this past 17th – 19th in Terrigal at a hotel. It is great to work for a company that values the less tangible benefits of its whole Engineering department taking a 3 day hiatus to brainstorm together and inspire each other.

Preparing my presentation took more time than anticipated. As always, I went stupidly ambitious with my concept and then followed through. I had to dig through 2-3 years of Incident Reports and Weekly Engineering Meeting notes for my raw materials, and put together a presentation on how we could leverage what we are learning there more effectively. Despite having had no time to practice the presentation itself, it was a great success on the day. And miraculously it dovetailed into 2-3 other presentations at the camp without even trying.

As a matter of fact, I have to say, the quality of all the presentations was remarkable.

Now. I may have gotten myself into some more trouble by volunteering to submit my presentation for a public conference later in the year. I won’t say more than that just yet… but it’ll be both exciting and terrifying (and a lot of extra work to adapt the content) if that comes off.

Personal Loss

Over the same quiet period we sadly lost our eldest fur-baby; Obie.

ChristmasObie

He was a lovely rescue from the Animal Welfare League, and came with a great mix of quirks and qualities. We got him at the “ripe old age” of 4, and when he passed away 2 weeks and 1 day ago, he was 17 (I believe).

SuppliesObie

Although since his passing it has become obvious he was the source of a lot of the mess around the house. He and Amber were definitely not equal partners in the hairball and peeing department. Still, he made more than up for it with his cuddly nature. I’ll always remember him in winter crawling under the blanket and sticking his head out on the pillow lying on his side… like the proper human he was.

ComputerObie

He is irreplaceable, so I’m not even going to try.

ObieAndBron

#PAXAUS – Day 3 – and scene

I’m not sure what it is about conferences.

They make me… want to do things.

Organise, lobby, create.

Today I feel like I wish I could enhance PAX and level it up into it’s next evolution. I’m not sure what that exactly looks like, but it probably involves some moderator training, a slightly broader net of topics, and maybe some workshops. It feels like PAX has a level of energy around it that is worth harnessing… for awesome.

Saturday I felt a pressing need to lobby politicians and try to help activists get their message across. There were so many people at panels passionate about changing pieces of their world, but obviously bewildered about how to go about it.

Friday, I just wanted to start a gaming cafe where people can play games over a meal. But that sounds like a great way to never have time for anything else ever again.

It’s a constant stream of inspiration and puzzle-pieces shifting around in my head.

And there is never enough time to think it all through to conclusions. I’m thinking I should give up some of my TV time in favour of writing time, lest these ideas end up indefinitely detained in the cage inside my brain.

Sadly, all of that is going to have to take a back-seat to my NaNoWriMo now; I have a 30 day deadline, and Tycho signed my messenger-bag with a “Godspeed” when I told him, and now it kinda feels like he is going to haunt me till the end of the month, and possibly beyond if I fail. I have to live up to his well-wish, or I’ll fail on two levels simultaneously.

Also, he has seemed possessed in the comics more of late, and I shouldn’t take any chances.

It was a great time, and I wish there were more of it. Even while it is exhausting. Or perhaps because of.

Thanks PAX, thanks crowd, thanks atmosphere.

And thanks Robert Khoo for picking Australia. That was cool of you.

#PAXAUS – Day 2

I tried to sleep in. I honestly did. But at 9:00am I was awake, despite the best curtains I have ever had in a hotel room. Even at noon, it feels like midnight in here; I had to sneak behind the curtains to confirm that the light bleeding along the edges wasn’t an illusion.

After discovering yesterday that running from session to session is not a great way to spend a day (and missing half of them anyway), I had quite dramatically cut back on my personal schedule.

But I wasn’t going to miss “Penny Arcade – Make a Strip!” even if Mike wasn’t available. Kris Straub was a great fill-in; although his art wasn’t entirely to my tastes as much as Mike’s he was a lot more personable and engaged with the Q&A portion of the event.

I am in awe of how open and vulnerable Jerry Holkins is prepared to make himself. I don’t know if it is partially a well-exercised act, but despite agonising over whether to reveal personal details about himself, he always comes through. He’s not afraid to just be himself. I wonder if that’s the secret sauce that makes the PAX con so great; the fact that it originates from geeks with a great attitude about life.

The Six Rules of PAX should be a model for Tech Cons.

Sometimes,… (often… (always)) his unflappable nature results in a blue tinge to proceedings. Q: “Invent and illustrate a new form of erotica” was Chekhov’ed delicately on the corner of the desk and eventually resulted in some delightful Vesperotica / bat erotica.

It is a delight just to listen to Jerry ad-lib and riff.

Next up, I had a political panel which included two lobbyists and one Scott Ludlam. Hearing him speak always reminds me that a quiet measured voice often garners more attention than a raised voice.

It was an incredibly packed session; the queue snaked around corners, and I think we ended up with slightly more people in the room than there technically should have been. But it’s all good. It is good to see that level of interest in activism; I am taking it as a sign of an interest to do something, rather than thinking it might have seemed an opportunity to roast a politician or perhaps gloat over other politicians not-present.

I have many thoughts on the topic of activism in the general sense. I need to find more time to think them through and write them out. Or do something constructive with them. But for now, the call-to-action I felt compelled to write will have to do.

I spent a brief period in an “Are Gamers Social?” session. As much as I was interested to find there are all kinds of geek spaces starting to show up in all the major cities, I think the panel was a bit un-structured and could have done with a bit more preparation. Or perhaps a better premise than a question with an obvious answer.

I left early.

The session on “Geek Culture/Identity: Exploring the Reality of ‘Fake’ Geeks” had a much better premise, a much better panel and a much better moderator than most of the sessions. I’m wondering if PAX should do more to prepare panel moderators for their duties, because it’s not as easy as just showing up with an idea and some guests.

What is a Fake geek… or what is even a Real geek. The panel didn’t really come to a solid conclusion, other than, almost any topic with passionate adherents could be considered geekery. And I don’t disagree. But then, maybe instead of spending a lot of time on the central question we could have moved on to the answer that everyone is a geek for something, and maybe we should all just pay more attention not to alienate those with geekery that we do not quite understand. In a stereotypical jocks-vs-geeks stand-off, aren’t both sides misunderstanding how similar they really are?

I would love for a panel to explore that point in more depth.

This was the point in the evening where the musical entertainment in the main hall proved more interesting than the sessions I had ticked off on my schedule. I ended up seeing some of the Doubleclicks’ work on-stage, and I enjoyed it greatly… especially their tabletop song was a work of art.

And the Axis of Awesome had a bit of a shaky start with feedback from the speakers, but they had some great bits, and ended incredibly strongly on a whirlwind tour through the musical landscape of the last decade based on a single four-chord progression. Music has never sounded more monotonous to me than it did for the last 5 minutes of their act. And surprisingly, that’s a compliment… I think.

We ended the evening late with a full room for the “Sex & The Modern Geek” session; who would have thought that’d draw a full room.

A great discussion, helped along by some various scholarly and thoughtful input from the panel. I think there was a certain level of discomfort in the room around a few of the topics raised, but overall a great audience. I wish there was more room for topics like this at PAX.

Acceptance comes from understanding. Understanding comes from exposure. Discomfort is part of the process of losing your discomfort.

It was a great session to end the day on.

The realisation there is only one more day left (and one that ends early at 6pm at that) makes me a little sad. There are certain conferences I could spend a great deal more time on if the constraints of life would only permit it. I don’t think I would enjoy every panel on the schedule, but I could certainly fit a few more days in.

Alas, time to rest so I can make the most of the last.

#PAXAUS – Day 1

I bought our tickets many many months ago. I think almost as soon as they became available. They are just too much of a bargain to take risks with how long they will be available.

If you want to ask me “What’s a Pax?” – go over to Penny Arcade, read some comics, and maybe watch a video or two. A PAX is essentially a glorious celebration of amalgamated nerd culture. Over a three day weekend, there are panels on many varied topics, a show floor for PC, console, handheld hardware and games, board games, and many places to play and try a little bit of everything.

All set on the south bank of Melbourne, with all the food, and entertainment, and gas torches.

We’re now at the end of day one, and it just doesn’t feel like there is enough time to get to everything. Too many sessions. I am on average triple-booked throughout the day. I need more time to see all the great cosplaying. I need more time to play all the games.

Or perhaps a better filter. As great as the event is overall, it is not all equally great. I’ve been in two panels that felt a bit under-prepared. Like the host had had a great idea for a session, suggested it, got accepted, and then didn’t do any work to put together a cohesive set of questions and a narrative digging into the material. Which is a shame, because I was looking forward to the sessions on diversity in games.

And although Mike didn’t manage to make it to Australia this year, Jerry (Holkins) is firing on all cylinders like always. I like his words. He puts them in order in the most fantastic way. I need to figure out if there is something I could ask him to sign on my pass. I am leaning towards “A Second Naked Kris Straub” at the moment for reasons I cannot adequately explain outside of the context of the game of Quiplash I witnessed. I could easily listen to him all day.

I had a specific request lined up for Mike as well. Something from First 15 that I thought would go well on a T-shirt, but I will have to forego that privilege for now.

Maybe that was more to assuage my guilt over not knowing what either Mike or Jerry looked like last year, and possibly accidentally snubbing Mike at the pin-trade. Which I have since learned would have been an even more severe snub for the fact that pin-trading came forth from his imagination.

It is a shame that all these cool people gathered here together disperse again in less than 48 hours.

3 days just feels too short.

It’s like… less than 1% of the year. Does that sound like enough to you? It doesn’t to me.

F430 F1 – Ferrari: ✔

When I left my previous job at AEMO after 11 years, a group of my closest friends and coworkers gathered around and presented me with a very unexpected and awesome gift. Although I have been enjoying my other gift from the wider company (lots of Kindle credit!) on a daily basis on the train, this was definitely something else entirely.

2015-07-29 - Ferrari-2

I hadn’t intended to take quite this long to get around to it, but it turns out this is a pretty popular Red Balloon gift, so June was as early as was available at the start of the year, and I decided to make it land near my birthday on the 26th.

I must admit. When I put a Ferrari on my list-of-100-things, I was just expecting that maybe someday I’d have a chance to drive one on the road.

2015-07-29 - Ferrari-1

Driving one on a race track is better.

Much better.

2015-07-29 - Ferrari-3

I have no practice at driving really fast, and I shamefully admit I didn’t quite nudge it past 200 on the straight, but I had an awful lot of fun trying to get there. I didn’t notice the adrenaline as I was going, but when I got out of the car I had an immediate urge to look for a drink because my mouth had dried out completely.

I have to clarify; 200 sounds like a lot, but in more qualified hands the car I was driving tops out over 300. Still. It’s faster than I’ve ever gone in a car myself.

2015-07-29 - Ferrari-4

First of all, you sit incredibly close to the road. It’s less than 1/2 Rav4 high. Secondly, the brakes are incredibly effective; anything more than the lightest touch and you stand still instantly. That’s a hard thing to get used to. I think the twitchy controls are what most held me back from pushing it faster. That, and the knowledge I was driving the cost of a modest flat around.

2015-07-29 - Ferrari-8

Through it all the instructor was amazing. Encouraging, calm and composed. Like a personal sat-nav pointing out the spots I should try to hit in the corner, and when to push it faster and when to ease it off. I got better on later laps.

2015-07-29 - Ferrari-7

The track I was driving wasn’t quite as expected either. See Eastern Creek geographical map style; that is what I was led to expect. Then, see Eastern Creek satellite view with the extra twisty bits on the right; that’s what I actually got to drive. Those tight corners are… intimidating.

2015-07-29 - Ferrari-5

I’m not quite done yet with my catch-up birthday, but the experience of the morning almost led me to buying a console with racing games straight out of the gate.

2015-07-29 - Ferrari-11

This afternoon I have a massage booked, and then dinner with some friends and family at Criniti’s for an Italian close to the day as well. What could possibly go wrong?

CM Goes Fiji

Despite being an accomplished airplane passenger, I must admit, after such a long time of not crossing any oceans I felt a little unsettled to be on a plane that was going to be crossing four hours of Pacific. But between my podcasts and my Kindle it whooshed by in the blink of a moment.

It is impossible to complain when your employer flies you to Fiji for 4 days to meet all your international co-workers face-to-face. Thanks Ben, Dave and Alex, and Campaign Monitor in general!

As first impressions go, Fiji leaves an interesting mix.

Landing against a backdrop of sharp volcanic teeth biting into fluffy clouds rouses an expectation of something raw and elemental. But that has proven more a set-piece to a pleasantly relaxed and hospitable stay.

The first step off the plane greets me with a blast of warm humid air. I quickly dispose of my jacket and sweater and drape them over my arm as I wind my way through the customs queue. The walkways into the airport feel improvised and the customs desks themselves seem accidentally placed in the middle of an otherwise bare carpeted room, more so than a well-planned line of border security. I guess there’s just not a lot worth worrying about.

Even the x-ray of my bag seems more cargo-cult formality than security per-se, when nobody questions the contents of the bundle of jackets, wallets and miscellaneous electronics I carry right past the machine through a striking absence of detectors.

And that’s just the first taste of an interesting contrast between a laid-back culture and signs of tourism-induced modernity along the way to the resort.

2015-07-16 - Fiji Hibiscus

The entire landscape leaves an impression of barely-tamed nature on the verge of consuming what civilization has been built among it. The place looks incredibly green everywhere, except where it is a natural yellow from the reedy grass. Strangely absent are flowers other than an occasional spray of hibiscus. Green is the colour of nature. It is the only colour omni-present.

Even the road looks like a merely temporary encroachment on nature, ready to be swallowed up by the grass if I look away for a moment… Don’t Blink!

Unnaturally narrow railway tracks follow the contours of the roads through the cane fields. My curiosity over the stability of any passenger train on these tracks is resolved when I spot the carriage packed with what I first mistook for bundles of twigs. The rail seems only intended for the sugar cane that grows everywhere.

And then every once in a while a cow.

Grassy field… Cow. Cane field, cane field,… cow. Bend in the road… group of cows blocking our way. I am completely desensitised to random cows now. It’s all good. Relax. Fiji time!

And then the resort.

2015-07-16 - Fiji Village

It looks like a little village in the jungle at the side of the bluest lagoon you’ve ever seen. It’s almost a shame to be “working”. But this is an incredible opportunity to make connections when working in a company with co-workers all over the US and Europe.

I have been chatting my ass off trying to put faces to HipChat aliases while drinks just keep materialising from smiling faces. I may recall about half, but that’s half more than I knew before. I think I’ve spoken to at least half of our international support team. And I had a few great conversations with members of the GetFeedback team (like SurveyMonkey, only much cooler, now with 99% less monkey). And a good number of the sales and marketing teams besides.

2015-07-16 - Fiji Shirts

And in between social events we have had an awesome All-Hands meeting with most of the company here. Our core values are now expressed everywhere through the medium of interpretative t-shirts. The thing indelibly impressed upon my mind from that session is that the head of sales has the energy of a pack of toddlers on red cordial.

Yesterday we went out into the community to build desks and tables for a school in a nearby village to kick of CMs new Community program which sponsors up to 4 days a year of community work for each staff member. I thought I had reached peak-pride in my employer, but there always seems to be more “up” there. We each brought a book for their library as well, which is now stocked with 150-odd new English books.

That’s another fact about Fiji that surprised me. English is the official language. It’s so strange to arrive on a tropical island and see all the street signs, and roadside shops advertise in English.

Sadly, I missed out on the great Team Building experience this morning. I woke up at about 7:30am with a migraine from what the bed had done to my freshly massaged back. I had to take some Panadol and another 4 hours sleep, rolling straight into lunch-time at the beach. I wish I could have joined in the fun.

2015-07-16 - Fiji Path

And the last day is left for free time to mingle.

Part of which I squandered wisely learning how to play “Up-and-down-the-river” with some of my Engineering friends (thanks Trips, T4, Rich, Ken and TJ). Apparently it has many other names, but I personally call it “screw over whomever you can; the game where someone always loses – the beginnening (part 1)”. I may have had a few drinks though, so it might be called something else tomorrow. I did poorly, but I screwed a whole bunch of people over so that’s winning in a way, innit?

To an introvert a holiday like this is a little like work. But an incredibly worthwhile time, and hopefully reason enough to repeat the exercise next year when we’ve grown even further!

Bula!

Oh, and the best time to join Campaign Monitor is obviously last week (everyone gets to come along; plenty of bemused three-week-hires floating around)… but the second best time to join is right now, so go and have a look at our Careers Page and apply!

2015-07-16 - Fiji Buggy

Old and New Books

When I left my previous employer, I received a fairly sizeable Amazon gift-card to feed my then-imminent Kindle-habit on my train-ride to my new-job.

I have been making some steady progress through the list of classics that I had never read before. Some, little curious time capsules (“A Passage To India”), others quaint in their stilted morals (“The Age Of Innocence”). But so far most disappointing is the third of “On The Road” that I have read so far. For a book that gets praised so much it doesn’t really stand out to me. Maybe I am reading it at the wrong time though; perhaps it is just old enough not to be directly relevant, but not so old that it is a glimpse into the past. Or maybe I’m just missing the point of it completely.

As I struggle to reduce my reading list, David Mitchell (author of Cloud Atlas) has succeeded in lengthening it significantly.

I went to see him speak during the Sydney Writers Festival with my friend Ken. I wasn’t sure what to expect, because I only knew him from the one book through his writing. He walked onto the stage a little huddled in on himself, and I was fearful of disappointment.

The first question from the interviewer was a clear lead-in to his current book. It sounded like the back-cover-summary rephrased as a pointless question. He repeated what sounded like a fairly rehearsed answer, probably from months of promoting. He apologised for being seriously jet-lagged.

And then he unfurled into what I can only describe as somewhat of a modern-day philosopher, with a slight lanky Cumberbatch-alike appearance, and a British humble shy-ness, with the most thoughtful and poignant answers rolling out of his brain like he was on a script that only he was privy to.

Earlier that day I had attended a session with Alan Cummings on the subject of domestic violence growing up, to promote his new book around that subject. At the end the audience was invited to ask questions, culminating in an aspiring actress making me cringe inwards as she proceeded to solicit acting tips from Alan.

I was braced for the worst when the floor opened for questions to David Mitchell. But I was surprised and delighted by the thoughtful questions on the meaning of his works, and humanity, and the symbolism of birds. And he’d take a few moments of silence and then again produce an answer that’d fill script-writers with envy. Maybe everyone in the audience was a plant? And I feel confident that even faced with the dullest imaginable questions he’d have found a deeper or more humorous way to look at them and keep us entertained.

So, now I have The Bone Clocks to look forward to reading next.

I’m almost ready to ditch “On The Road” for it, if not for the fact that I only once before abandoned a book without finishing it. I am too stubborn to give up.

Smooth Transitions

As of Monday I am once again in charge of a team.

Exactly the same day that I had my 3-Month review in the afternoon. I felt fairly confident my review was going to be okay. I’ve definitely set myself a high bar to beat for the 6-Month review.

Today, my second day, was the day for one-on-ones with everyone. Also, interviewing a Product Manager. Also, a one-on-one with the CEO. Only lunch wasn’t technically a meeting, even though it kinda is.

It was great to talk with everybody and for them to be so positive and enthusiastic about the changing of the guard. It didn’t seem to take anyone by surprise, which is kinda surprising in its own right. If this goes pear-shaped it won’t be for lack of support from my team. I’m sure my previous two years of juggling/cat-herding/crisis-management will serve me well.

And then ending the day catching up with the CEO (a standard with all new employees, I believe)… Congratulations on getting the team lead so soon in my tenure. Emphasising how important the team’s work is to the success of the organisation (no pressure… really). And an opportunity to ask some questions.

And yet again… all ’round, so much support and enthusiasm from everyone in the company.

So…
What’s Next?

Exclusive Membership

I still have to catch up with a few posts rattling in my brain; had a fun 24-hour challenge at work last week that I need to write about, and this week has left me with some thoughts to put to paper* as well.

But for now… I just have to share the awesome team I am a member of.

2015-04-22 - Blackbeard

We are Team Blackbeard!
(named for our fearless(?) team captain)

*Please print out this post before reading, for the sake of accuracy.