Microsoft Regional Director Appointment

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I am excited to announce my appointment as a Microsoft Regional Director.

If you travel in Microsoft community circles many of the names here will be familiar to you. This is  a 2-year non-remunerated position and I’m really looking forward to the conversations that this opportunity will bring. I have so many ideas buzzing around my head already.

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To find out a bit more about the program you can look here but a good summary is:

The Regional Director Program provides Microsoft leaders with the customer insights and real-world voices it needs to continue empowering developers and IT professionals with the world’s most innovative and impactful tools, services, and solutions.
Established in 1993, the program consists of 160 of the world’s top technology visionaries chosen specifically for their proven cross-platform expertise, community leadership, and commitment to business results. You will typically find Regional Directors keynoting at top industry events, leading community groups and local initiatives, running technology-focused companies, or consulting on and implementing the latest breakthrough within a multinational corporation.

Mixed Reality Dev Days–in Altspace VR

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The one positive to come from COVID is that many of the events that I would have been unable to attend (unless i wanted to spend my life travelling) are being held virtually this year. One I was excited to be able to goto was Mixed Reality Dev Days. What was even cooler, was they held the whole event in Altspace VR.

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I’d been to a number of events in the proceeding weeks and really struggled to stay “in” the conference. I don’t find the online video format particularly engaging. This has been by far the best event I’ve been to. The main reasons for me were:

Immersive nature

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In the headset especially you feel “at” the event. I do also find the desktop experience way more immersive than a video call. I can look around and feel like I’m in the same room as the other people. Having multiple ways to join was also really good. As it was set for US timezone I wasn’t very awake and when I’m not awake properly I find the headsets hurt my eyes. No worries – I can join on my laptop. Later in the event I can switch over to my headset. I also liked the ability to use my laptop and have side chats with my friends at the event in real time.

Spatial Sound

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When we were at the mingling areas the spatial sound really makes you feel like you’re at an event. In the distance you can hear the murmur of people talking as as you get closer you can hear what they’re saying. You will suddenly hear a voice you recognise and turn around to spot a friend.

Fireside Chat

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There was just something about this fireside chat session that made it feel like I was a kid sitting by the fire listening to the grownups chat. I really enjoyed the feel of this session.

Other things I liked:

  • There was decent breaks between sessions. There was at least half an hour between each session. This meant there was plenty of time to grab a cuppa or in my case have a power nap between sessions.
  • Hangout area – great for hallway conversation. I didn’t use this a lot due to overpowering need for sleep between session but when I did it was nice to have a place to hang out with people.

It wasn’t all perfect…

I’ll be honest and say there were technical issues: presenters would drop out, questions weren’t getting through but it was all livable and the team did a great job at putting it together really quickly.

What I’d love to see

There’s a few things I think could be improved to make the events better:

  1. Custom shirt/icon to identify conference staff. We do this for in-person events and it makes it easier to identify speakers, staff and just who to ask questions of. There’s not a way to do this for these events and if you don’t know what the person looks like it can be hard to identify the right person to talk to.
  2. Sharding by friends. As the event gets bigger, the rooms are replicated and I only really noticed this must have happened because I wasn’t in the ‘same’ room as my friends. I assume it’s by when you enter the room but it would be nice to group us together so when i look around I see friendly avatars.
  3. More variation in avatars. This event was big enough for me to notice the variation isn’t enough…so I couldn’t easily identify people I know. Edit: 20/6 – looks like this will be fixed very soon.

Boots and All Experience of my First Guest Lecture In AltspaceVR

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Today I gave my first university guest lecture hosting in AltspaceVR. Since my first experience at the Microsoft MVP Mixed Reality Mixer back in March, I’ve been to a lot more events finding them the closest thing to interacting with my friends that I’ve found so far.  With the university lectures going virtual/online due to COVID-19 my usual in person lecture was moving on line, and my lecture about Agile and Retrospective, I thought this was a perfect opportunity to try a different format under the banner of embrace change, try something new and learn from it.

Firstly, I have to thank the teaching staff at QUT for being as excited as me to try something new and want to give the students a different experience. Without them, this could not have happened. 

Inclusivity Challenge

The biggest challenge we had to overcome was making the event accessible to all the students that wanted to participate.  Currently you experience it through Vive, GearVR, Oculus devices, Windows Mixed Reality Devices, and PC.  This leaves out anyone on Mac or Android devices.

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Credit: Sharon Altena

We solved this with Zoom and people power. One of the teaching staff entered the PC app and “sat” near the front with a view of the slides and then shared their screen inside the Zoom session. They had to be muted so they wouldn’t get a feedback loop. A 2nd Team member also in Altspace and on Zoom monitored the zoom chat and could feed me questions at the appropriate times.

Identifying Helpers

In this environment, we have avatars and usernames. They may not look like us and our chosen names may not obviously be us. We really wanted an easy way to identify the moderators. Something as simple as allowing the host to upload a simple logo that could be added to our avatars shirt would have been perfect. So the best we could come up with quickly was wearing the same colour shirt/logo.

Event Setup

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This was fairly painless. I reworked my powerpoint deck and exported some test pages into the event to check some of the colours. I found the black background with not much gradient worked ok and to bump the text sizes up as large as possible worked well.

Once I was happy I imported my deck into slides.com. Their is a free tier here, but I chose to get the monthly subscription, to eliminate ads. I went with very basic room setup to keep it performant as possible and only had the projector screen and the artboard with a picture I took at QUT loaded. While in the event I took a photo of the room which I then used to create the banner and thumbnail for the event to give it some context on the site.

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As the host, I could enter the event at any time and try my deck and make sure it worked. I also created a 2nd account – a “clone” me that I used to log in and make sure I could see the room and the slides.  Then I set up all the teaching staff as moderators so they could enter the room and help moderate on the day.

The teaching staff self organised who would play the various roles in the room, vs zoom and setup all the zoom infrastructure. They also polled the students to get an indication of how many might attend the event through one of the devices so I could ensure we’d be under the 80 person default. If we thought we’d to over we could get this extended by AltspaceVR team but I needed to give them advance notice.

On the Day Preparation.

The teaching staff and I entered early and they spent sometime setting up where to place the person that was to be the feed through to zoom.

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Credit: Alessandro Soro

They needed to be central and fairly close to the front. They stayed stationary throughout so they there’d be no camera motion for those watching from zoom.

We did a few “sound checks” to ensure that when I was amplified it was the right level through zoom. I did have to turn the microphone output to max.

I came in on the device (Oculus Quest) I wanted to use and ensure the slides were up and working. I didn’t however remember to recheck with everyone else that they could see correctly…more on that a bit later.

During the Event

It started well. People arrived, they seemed orderly. I talked through expectations for interaction we ensure people could emote as a feedback option. I discussed that I’d talk for a bit but have “Raise Hands” turned on and address them at the appropriate time. I addressed appropriate areas: front if you want to be still and watch, towards the back if you are a bit twitchy and the area right at the back if you wanted to walk around and to generally try not to block anyone’s view.

Seemed to be going well and then someone emoted a hand..hmm..unmute the audience. “Are we supposed to be on different slides?”. Yep. So while they could see my title slide, as I’d moved through them it’d updated for me but for nobody else. I tried a few things like refresh, enter slide numbers, and sync from my “personal browser” but the slides for the audience would still get out of sync.

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My slides don’t have much text so it wasn’t a big deal for now. I continued on till I reached the first activity point. Here I gave them instructions, told them to mingle and talk about the issue, unmuted them and left.  I then jumped back on through the PC version, reset the slides and ta-da it was working. Not wanting to risk another break I continued on for the rest of the session on my pc.  The downside of the pc is I don’t get moving hands so the audience misses my hand gestures.

For the rest of the session I talk, showed slides and took questions.

At the end we hung around a bit and as it cleared out we decided those remaining would pop onto the Zoom call and interact with those left on there.  This I found nice – I knew these people were watching while I was talking so it was nice at the end to pop over and say hi. Here we had a good chat.

Overall it seemed positive and something different to experiment with.

Also the audience was so well behaved, about half way through I left everybody on mics on.

Presenter Experience

This is so different to in person event. You are literally staring at a room of blank faced avatars. It really helped with people on devices as I could get head nods, and waves and thumbs up. Encouraging people to use the emoticons to give me feedback was useful aswell. Emote if you’re good for me to continue.  Raise hands also worked really well to grab the questions from the Zoom cohort.  It was a bit delayed as the messages were relayed but I think it worked out ok.

There’s a lot to juggle as the presenter – you have slides, amplifying your voice, muting people, managing hand raising etc.

For me the slides not syncing with what I could see was annoying. Normally in a live presentation what you can see on a projector screen the room can see. So mental note for next time: ask the audience if they can see slide 2!

I wouldn’t mind a 2nd projector screen up the back to mirror the slides. The interface to progress them is a bit clunky so I was turning around all the time to make sure I was on the right slide.

Final Thoughts

I definitely would do this again. In fact – I’d love to do it again – so hit me up if you want an Altspace presentation Smile  There’s an array of different room types and I chose the lecture type for the size capacity and the space it provided. I think there’s so much potential here for group collaborations I love to hear what you’re doing with it.

Mixed Reality MVP Mixer in AltspaceVR

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This week I’m at the Microsoft MVP Summit. Due to COVID-19 this year’s event is online only. The absolute highlight of me week (and probably one of the few things I can talk about without breaking NDA) was the Mixed Reality Cafe that was put on for all the Mixed Reality MVPs.  It was held in AltspaceVR and I ordered an Oculus Quest to make the participation experience better but sadly it arrived 3 hours after the event ended Sad smile

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Device shipping issues aside – the event was fun. I loved the spatial sound that made it feel like you were mingling in the space. The rumble of a group talking that as you approach you could make out the conversation. To talk to someone you had to walk closer (just like real life). It was also fun to see how recognisable a bunch of people were in their avatar state.

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My favourite addition was the globe widget that showed where all the attendees are from. I think this is an awesome addition to a global event as it shows the diversity of the group and asks as a great talking point.

Looking forward to trying AltspaceVR out more. I think it holds great promise for online events and education. I like it much more than video calls Smile

How to process the dreaded conference feedback

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Image by Alan Levine [CC BY 2.0]

You’ve spent a good 40+ hours building and preparing for your conference talk, you’ve practiced, you’ve got past a lot of fears and you get up in front of a room full of people to share your knowledge (for free). Post conference your inbox lights up with the session feedback  and you eagerly read through it, desperate to make sure you find ways to improve. Quickly, you become disheartened and possibly even distressed at the comments you are reading. You think it must just be me, surely people would have warned me people could be this cruel.  Sound familiar?

After running Global Diversity CFP Day in Brisbane, this tweet it made me reflect on the conference feedback I’ve seen over the years. As an organiser for DDDBrisbane and having spoken at conferences I’m all too familiar with the types of things people tend to write.

Firstly, in my opinion, your average person is generally terrible at giving constructive feedback on a form. I’m no exception to this.

Knowing this fact – how do you process this feedback? Believe it or not many (if not all speakers) can take the feedback very personally. Here’s my tips on how I process it.

Scores Only

This one is the easiest. If I felt good about the presentation and the majority of the scores reflect how I felt – done.  I’m a personal believer that if everyone gives you a 10/10 than your talk needs improvement. If you’re challenging the audience, giving advice and helping them grow getting a few haters is a good thing.  Maybe an unpopular opinion.  If you thought you did well and the scores are very low – there’s not much you can do but to try and track someone down to get actual feedback.

Prepared Questions with Scores/selection only answers

I process the same way – have your own opinion on how you went at each thing – then look at the scores are and see how it fits.


Free Form Text

This could be a single overall feedback or broken into what they liked, what you could improve free form feedback. This one I feel gives the most anxiety to those who read it. This is somewhat a big ask as doing it properly involves a lot of thought, observation and effort outside of listening and enjoying your talk.

Tip 1: Don’t read it on the same day you presented – If you’re fortunate enough to get near realtime feedback available don’t read it the same day as your presentation. Let yourself absorb how you felt and how the day went before tackling the anonymous feedback of others.

Tip 2: Delete ANY of the following feedback: Anything that was out of your control as a speaker e.g. The air conditioning was too hot/cold, the seats were uncomfortable, the food was bad etc. This is feedback for the event organisers not for you. Delete it and get it out of the way.

Tip 3: Delete most comments about your clothes, hair and how you look etc. – Delete the comments about how they didn’t like your dress, they thought your shoes were weird, they don’t like your hair etc. The exceptions to this is where it had an effect on your actual presentation e.g. jewellery that was causing microphone issues. If you do get lots of comments about a part of your clothing – my example was I wore toe shoes – while I found them comfortable, the consistent comments in session feedback, hallway conversations, and very unwarranted mean girl remarks I got about them over the years meant I stopped wearing them to conferences because I didn’t want to continually discuss my shoes.  Not saying that’s the right thing for you but for me it was, and I have other shoes I happily wear instead.

Tip 4: Delete any personal attacks or puts downs – You don’t need this in your life if it’s not relevant to your talk. E.g. I delete any remark the refers to me being the token female, the diversity balance speaker etc.

Tip 5: Too technical / Not technical enough – Generally I would ignore/delete these as you’ll have an audience with varied experience so naturally some will find it too hard, too easy. These are the exceptions – everyone thought it was too technical or not technical enough,  if I was doing a level 100 talk and got more than 1 comment about it being too technical – and similar for say a 400.

Tip 6: Turn a negative into a positive – Take all the shopping lists of things that people thought you should have mentioned and put them in the list of positive comments – these are great ideas for future talks – use them as a gift as it means people want to hear more.

Tip 7: Delete the one-worders – These are so generic you can’t do anything about them. Examples here are: terrible, waste of time, missed opportunity. I also apply this rule to the positive comments as things like: awesome, loved it etc don’t tell me what to concentrate on.

Tip 8: It’s only that person’s opinion – In the end you can choose to ignore the feedback as you may disagree and remember if it’s only 1 person in the room of 100 or more people than maybe it’s not worth changing.

Now if you have remaining feedback you should be left with things that you can action on.  At this point I highly recommend putting the remaining list aside so you can get over all the other things you just deleted and have a fresh look the next day.

With this list, if there’s things I don’t already know about (as generally I know i messed up the demo, or I forgot to repeat a question), then focus on a few or just one of these and work out how to do better next time.

Asking for specific feedback

Asking someone you trust to give you honest feedback on a specific thing I find the best way to get actionable feedback. For example – if you want to work on your posture – ask them to write down the times your posture was bad, what was bad about it and what point in the talk it was. Equally important – ask them when it was good and what was good about it so you can harness how you felt at that time and try to replicate it more.




Global Diversity CFP Day Brisbane 2020

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On Saturday I was one of the organisers and mentors for Brisbane’s Global Diversity CFP Day. This is a global event held on the same day worldwide. This year there were 82 workshops run across 35 countries.  This was my first time involved with this event but many of our mentors and other organisers have been involved in previous Brisbane GDCFPDay events.

The aim of the day is to help the attendees craft a Call For Paper / Call For Proposal (CFP) that they can use to submit to meetups, workshops and conferences. Each event is free to choose their own agenda and target it to their audience and specific skills.

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Photo: @sammyherbert

Brisbane was fortunate to have Vanessa Love as one of our organisers and mentors. She is not only a well known presenter but she also runs workshops to help new speakers for free! With that in mind – it’s no wonder we were in great hands with her able to lend lots of invaluable insights from her experience.

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There’s lots of elements involved when looking that these proposals with:

  • Knowing your target audience – are you targeting a meetup vs a conference? What is the target audience of the event and what should you think about with your proposal to make it more suitable? Do they have a particular format to submit the proposal in?
  • Writing a catchy title that makes people read further
  • Writing a description that summarises your talk and makes people want more
  • Write a personal bio
  • Thinking about the type of language (inclusionary vs exclusionary)

just to name a few.

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One of the important aspects for the day, was to allow everyone a safe space to talk. It was great to see the new networks form and to have the ability to bounce ideas off other people, and to be able to interact with like-minded individuals.  We also had a number of mentors and facilitators who organise local meetups and conferences which gives the attendees some great contacts to help them feel comfortable approaching these groups to speak.

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We can’t run these events successfully without the support of our local sponsors.

  • Thoughtworks kindly allowed us to use their office to host the event and provided financial support and staff on the day, with Deepti and Harsh there on the day to let us in and help where we needed. Nothing was too much of an ask.
  • SixPivot provided financial support and the fantastic Sammy Herbert was one of our organisers
  • Microsoft provided financial support.

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I should have taken a photo at the very start of the day so unfortunately I didn’t get a group photo with everybody in it.

Of course the day couldn’t happen without our great mentors on the day: Julian Scharf, Emily Taylor, Tharanga Kasthuriarachchi and Sarah Smith

It was a great privilege to work with Sammy and Venessa organising this event. The day ran smoothly and that’s always helped along when you work with people that know what needs doing and just get it done.  It was refreshing to work on a smaller event again after running DDD Brisbane for so many years. It’s exciting when everything you need for the day fits in the back of your car.

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We had a bad storm the night before and it was raining on the day with some of our mentors and facilitators unable to make it due to storm damage and flooding. It was great to see our attendees brave the weather and give up their Saturday to participate on the day. The range and variety of talks this group are working on was truly diverse and I look forward to seeing these appear over the coming year with participants already submitting the proposals crafted on the day to to various places.

Virtual Beings–VR Days Day 3 takeaway

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Final VR Days – and I found the session block on AI & Virtual Beings fascinating.

If you’ve heard my recent round of talks you’ll know I wasn’t a massive fan of how Google Duplex seemed to purposely add human speech inflections like uh-huh to trick the person on the other end of the line that they were talking to a person. Today it was interesting to see all the panellists agree they think disclose being very important in these situations.

I was particularly interested in Cameron Wilson’s segment on his virtual modelling agency – in particular the story of Shudu – the world’s first virtual supermodel. Starting by creating the character, casting her for a shoot and then finally revealing that she isn’t real and the public feedback on it. There are many virtual humans whom have attained fame, following and influencer status. There was discussion over whether the “reality” should always be revealed, should the person or people behind these accounts be made known etc. In an age of social media where noting is as it seems – the photos are staged, the outfits carefully curated, and the filters turned up to make it look like a picture perfect reality – is that much different to a virtual influencer?

Virtual Assistants and people becoming emotionally invested in characters, stories etc. was also food for thought. It made me think of the movie Her where the main character falls in love with his virtual assistant. While to some that may seem unrealistic – I am brought back to my days of working in a game store when Lara Croft – Tomb Raider was selling like hotcakes and the many customers professed to being in love with her.

It also made me think of Robot and Frank – a companion robot that kept an elderly cat burglar with dementia company – ensuring he was eating correctly, getting the stimulation he needed etc. but also being impervious to his moods etc. With a growing aging population and ever-increasing loneliness I can’t help but think of the good this technology can do. If these assistant robots can help motivate someone to get up, get moving, and feel better about themselves and help fill the void that could outweigh the bad that they can’t emotionally invest back into that person. 

The window to your soul with eye tracking–VR Days Day 2 takeway

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It’s the 2nd day of the VR Days conference and we’ve changed venue to this funky warehouse location. I spent the morning listening to sessions on VR training but it’s the set of afternoon sessions on “Use Your Brain 4.0” that got me thinking.

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I found the session about BrainVu which ”uses a non-invasive and remote smartphone/AR/VR camera to extract physiological bio-markers that indicate changes in brain activities and deduce human mental responses including: processing Cognitive Load, Stress Level and Emotional Engagement. The calculated human states are then correlated to events and used to  connect to a multitude of platforms  to provide human machine emotional interaction.”

Before we got into that the idea of subliminal messaging (or messages below the threshold of normal perception) was discussed. In many countries this is banned. I went and double checked an YES Australia is on that list:

preventing the broadcasting of programs that:

                              (i)  simulate news or events in a way that misleads or alarms the audience; or

                             (ii)  depict the actual process of putting a person into a hypnotic state; or

                            (iii)  are designed to induce a hypnotic state in the audience; or

                            (iv)  use or involve the process known as subliminal perception or any other technique that attempts to convey information to the audience by broadcasting messages below or near the threshold of normal awareness;”

There were some interesting points in these sessions around the use of colour and light to enhance memory retention, but also the use of cameras to extract biomarkers and see what the user is thinking etc.  As someone with the absolute worst poker face, the ability for my eyes to additionally give away my thoughts set off some alarm bells. I started to think of the scene in Blade Runner looking into the eyes with questions to decide if the person was real or a replicant.

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The discussions on eye tracking and what you can tell about a person hit home a bit more when I wandered into the Church of VR where there are large groups of people trying various experiences.  I know lots of my data gets tracked every day. A lot of it I knowingly “give” by putting it on the internet, using my credit card etc. but should my true thoughts and feelings be mined – things I can’t turn off or consciously control. Even though I bought a $100 pair of shoes to wear to work, should I give up the fact I was secretly dying to buy the $300 pair (or not so secretly if this eye tracking thing works). There’s something about my inner-most thoughts that I feel should stay just that…inner-most.

Judgement Call–The Game, VR Days Day 1 takeaway

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Continuing on Day 1 of the Vision and Impact Conference of VR Days Europe and I’m listening to Brandon Harper talk about ambient experience.

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In his session he mentions a game the team plays called Judgment Call to look at the ethical implications of the products they’re creating. I hadn’t heard of it before but a quick internet search allowed me to find it here: https://vsdesign.org/publications/pdf/p421-ballard.pdf

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I really liked the concept – take a stakeholder, a principal, and a rating number and write a review and discuss it. It’s a simple concept and I’m keen to try this on my next project. It fits in well with a few books I’ve been reading on decision making and strategies lately.  I like the way it makes you think about what would you have to do / or what are you doing that makes this stakeholder give you a rating for a particular theme.  I think it could be really useful to bring out risks that you hadn’t really thought through before. The example of a 5* rating from a hacker for instance – what can we do so a hacker can’t give us a 5* rating (meaning it’s easy for them to exploit the system) and balance that with reviews we’d get from a standard user wanting ease of access while being secure.

Keen to hear if anyone has used something similar when developing their product features.

Personalising Headsets–VR Days Day 1 takeaway

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It’s Day 1 – Vision and Impact Conference of VR Days Europe and I really loved the session by

Dominic Eskofier addressing the problems with enterprise VR (or really all the devices). The part that resonated was getting people to want to put on the device (especially in a public place). They mess with your hair, they can feel a bit claustrophobic to people, and aren’t very fun looking.

I really loved some of the ideas he shared to make them more fun and personalised – like above where it can be a fun “skin” to attract kids, or the amazing one below that is a pure piece of art.

 

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What I really like (apart from how amazing it looks) about the 2nd one is the handle. This allows the user to be able to hold the device to their face to try an experience without having to be strapped in. It allows them to easily exit the experience if they feel uncomfortable in any way very quickly and it doesn’t mess up anyone’s hair. I’ve seen so many people not keen on trying experiences in Hololens etc because they don’t want helmet hair!

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I also think the skin/cover idea is also going to appeal to so many people. I personally like the plain looks so they appeal to me, but when you’re in a room with many devices – how to do you find “yours” in the see or other people. How do you express your individuality. I think this will become more important as these devices become more personal to us – like our phones – and it becomes “your” device rather than a shared family or work item.


I’m In ….. SheEO Year 2

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I happened upon SheEO earlier in the year and signed up as a first year Activator in Australia. It sounded novel and much of the message resonated with me and what I’d seen in a lot of our local community. I’ve recently re-Activated for Australia Year 2.

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The other day I placed and order that included a return package. When it arrived, i was reminded of one of the reasons I was attracted to this concept in the first place.

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The return packaging was from Better Packaging Co – which is a home compostable mailing package. As someone who gets quite a few packages and has mail gilt – I love that this is compostable. It’s one of the New Zealand Ventures rather than the Australian ones but there’s something about seeing it that makes you realise in some small way you’re helping these companies change the world.

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I’ve been to a few of the Circular Economy Futures Meetups this year – MC’d by Yasmin from SheEO Venture World’s Biggest Garage Sale.

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There’s been some inspiring speakers including SheEO Venture Envorinex – who recycles a massive amount of plastic in Tasmania.

Let’s not forget seeing many of the other Australian ventures appearing in the news throughout the year. e.g.:

Neighbourlyticshttps://www.smh.com.au/business/small-business/tech-company-s-non-tech-founders-are-getting-to-know-your-neighbourhood-20190425-p51h4g.html

GoGo Eventshttps://www.adelaidereview.com.au/latest/business/2016/11/10/gogo-events-aims-change-way-business/

Muses Code JS Brisbane

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Photo Credit Muses JS

Muses run JavaScript and Node.js workshops for women, non-binary and trans folk around Australia.

I’d mentored a bunch of different events, but I hadn’t made it to this one yet. Today that changed – and I spent the day helping a bunch of ladies learn about coding at https://musescodejs.org/brisbane.html.

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Held at Fishburners it was a great spot for the attendees roll in and meet a bunch of other people.

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What I really loved about the event is the pure joy on the faces of the attendees when they got something working and that sense of achievement.


50 Shades of Grey– Ethics In A World of Ever-Growing AI

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Back in March last year, my friend James challenged me to the AI Ethics challenge. While I intended to write a blog post and had lots of ideas I decided I’d fulfil the challenge with a talk instead.

50 Shades of Grey–Ethics In A World of Ever-Growing AI

It is the best of times, and the worst of times. We are in an age where technologists can use their skills to make amazing, positive impacts on people’s lives. With these seemingly boundless possibilities also allows us to slide into a slippery slope where the same technology can be used to harm.

In this session Bronwen will cover areas of technology that can be used to help or hinder and question the increasing use of AI to bring these abilities into the hands of everyday people. She does not hold the right answers to these questions, instead wants to foster open discussion and questions on our responsibility as ethical technologists to help drive the use of technology for good.

First cab off the rank for the Brisbane Azure User Group on the 11th July.

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Followed by the Brisbane .Net User Group on the 16th July.

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We had some really great discussions around the trolley problem, voice synths etc.

A few people asked about some of the sites I’d link to so here they are.

The book I’ve been reading is

The Age of Surveillance Capitalism

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If you’re after an overview of all the different types of ethics (we only discussed 3 of them briefly) this site is really good : https://plato.stanford.edu

If you’re interested in having input or checking out where Australia is at with Ethics: Australia’s AI Ethics Framework

If you wanted to know about Genetics Discrimination in Australian Insurance : Australia: Genetics Discrimination in Insurance


DDD Brisbane: Baby Steps Towards Zero Waste

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Let’s talk about rubbish! We’ve been running DDD Brisbane for a few years now (this is our 8th!) and did a few things here and there to be friendly to the environment. At the end of the 2017 event we looked around the empty rooms littered with empty coffee cups and it hit what a poor job we were actually doing.

This year we made a conscious effort to start the journey towards a greener conference. There’s lots of parts to organising and running a conference. Aswell as a journey towards zero waste we also wanted to look at ways to involve more community.

Things We Considered

This year we did a big rebrand, so this added extra things to consider for what we had to buy and get re-done.

Planning and Communication

As we all have day jobs all our planning and communication is online – no environmental, tangible improvements to be made here.

Signage

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Each year we put up signs around the venue to help people find us and our rooms. We’ve been improving on that each year in the following ways:

  • Banners for the rooms – we paid for pop up banners that can be re-used.  Due to to the rebrand we needed new signs. We used a local company and just had the inside of the banner replaced and re-sued the metal parts.
  • Directional signs – last year we had signs printed and then we laminated them so we can re-use. We did in fact re-use them and made more for the childcare and rubbish signs.
  • Agendas – We’ve reduced the number of these we print each year and now only print one per room for the pull up banners and a set for the registration desks. It is also on the lanyard and the website.

We do use Blutak on the signage and while we collect it off the signage each year, it doesn’t keep well. Not sure what else here would be environmentally better that would hold the signage that can be easily pulled down.

Registration

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We’ve always used online ticketing and each year we’ve improved the communication around not needing to print the tickets. We can scan barcodes from devices or look people up by name.

Lanyards

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Lanyards and what’s in them is always an issue. I don’t think we can eliminate them as we need to identify the attendees and I don’t think there’s a better way. The actual lanyards we have always tried to gather back from attendees and re-use them each year where we can. To make the contents as re-usable but sturdy as possible we’ve been using the plastic pockets with a cardboard insert. These are also collected back from attendees each year and reused. The cardboard insert isn’t glossy and has space for the attendees to insert whatever name they want to be identified as and the agenda on the back upside-down for easy reading. This makes the insert easy to recycle as it’s not contaminated with name stickers. As we collect as many of these as possible, we remove the inserts and send them to recycling.

Swag

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While the easiest way to deal with this one would be to not have any swag – that is not a fun outcome for our attendees. Each year we put thought into our swag and try to pick items we think people can use.

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I know that this has worked as I see different DDD swag bags all over Brisbane and on twitter.

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The main issue we have with our swag is the waste generated in packaging. This year we made sure each item of swag we handed out had been “de-plastic’d”. While not perfect it mean we could Redcycle any plastic packaging.

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I did discuss limiting some of the packaging with the suppliers which worked to an extent. The bottles, instead of individual boxes had collapsible inserts. This with the boxes we sent to recycling. Sadly the bottles still had plastic surrounds and I’ll be working harder with the suppliers to get this down as much as possible.

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To make a slightly bigger statement, I investigated getting Boomerang Bags made for the conference. These bags are upcycled fabric made by local community chapters. This sounded perfect, but I needed to source 450 of them.

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This is where I headed to my local chapter that works from the B4C – Bulimba Creek Catchment Coordinating Committee where I met the most lovely group of people. Gen and Jewel really made this all possible for us. They not only signed on to make some of the bags but helped put me in contact with other chapters as it was too big an ask for one group.

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Redlands signed on for another 50 bags and even upcycled an old tie.

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Dayboro another 50 and with the remaining coming from Moggill. I must say, this was one of the changes I was most nervous about. After ensuring for all previous years everyone had EXACTLY the same thing, this time everyone had different bags. We received amazingly positive feedback!

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Based on this, we’re going to use them again this year. The groups were appreciative of seeing photos of the attendees with the bags they’ve been keen to help again this year and we’ve already started collecting bags from the groups.

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The relationships that have been built also means we’re able to consolidate the supply to 3 chapters which means less postage and transport also.

The biggest thing I forgot to think through with the swag was the sponsor on-the-day swag. There was quite a bit of plastic waste generated here we didn’t take into account. For this year we want to improve that communication to help them reduce their waste footprint also.

Food

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You can’t have a good conference without good food! As we’ve grown in size we’ve had to move to caterers to help us feed the hungry crowd of people. There’s a few things to consider with feeding 450 people:

Leftover food

We try to get it right but you need to have some leftovers or it means somebody went hungry. We don’t like to see food go to waste, so one of our fantastic volunteers Gareth takes the usable food to a homeless shelter for us. We’ve done that a few years now and there’s still food that can’t be given to people and food waste from people’s plates.

For this we looked at a few things and settled on Mallow Sustainability who could supply bins and then take the food waste away and turn it into compost.

Plates and cutlery

We had been lazy in the past and used whatever the caterer supplied which was inevitably plastic. Adam did a fantastic job and worked with them to supply compostable plates, bamboo cutlery, recycled napkins all of which could go in the foot waste bins for compost. They also had biodegradable cups which they could take away and I assume are processed by a specific machine.

The plates held up ok, but the cutlery was a bit weak. Next time we need to look at whether we need a higher grade bamboo/corn starch product of if they can supply real cutlery that they then wash and reuse.

We have considered real plates aswell, but we have to consider breakage and the risk of cuts and injury to the attendees.

Drinks

We supplied stainless steel drink bottles for all attendees and the university has water bubblers. The caters also supplied small drink dispensers. The uni fountains didn’t cope well with 450 attendees so we’ll be looking to bring in some extra chilled water in future and make the drink bottle a regular swag item.

We had organised with a local school to hand over the left over drink bottles in the new Container For Change program but because we didn’t supply cans of drink this year this didn’t end up giving us many containers for recycle.

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The biggest problem we had was cross-contamination in the bins. People really did try but it happens. This was the first year at this and I think we can improve on this next year by placing all the bins together with better signage and maybe a volunteer or two to help out.

Coffee Cups

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You can’t have a good conference without good coffee. We’re fortunate to have great sponsors who pay for the coffee carts at the event. We go through at least 700 coffees at the event and that means a LOT of coffee cups!

Solving this one probably involved the most discussion of anything. Ideally, we want to use real mugs that just get washed up and reused. The problems we face are: breakage, spillage and how to get them clean.

We also thought about supplying reusable coffee cups but again were faced with how to get them clean and didn’t have a good answer to this.

Adam worked with the coffee cart company to get them to long term (not just for us) offer a different service of a more environmentally friendly cup option to normal. They ended up choosing RecycleMe and provided an option for sustainable coffee beans that they also send for composting rather than landfill.

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We also encouraged attendees to bring their own cup and reuse any cups they used by offering a small prize draw based on ticket stub handed out for supply the cup to the barista. This gave us an indication on how many people were keen to re-use and wash their own cup.  The cup recycling had it’s problems in there wasn’t enough bins or clear enough bins so I did spend a bit of the day fishing them out of the bins. This we can improve on next year.

Now that we know at least 10% of coffee drinkers are reusing their cups without a lot of encouragement, we can re-visit supply of a reusable cup for all attendees in the future. Our biggest issue is hygenically supplying a cleaning service for them at the venue.

Transport

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The conference is held at a university which is well serviced by bus and ferry during the semester. We run the conference at the end of year break but the transport still continues. It does give the attendees the option for public transport if they want to use it. There is free parking on the weekend when we are there so I presume the majority of people drive.

We could look at a few car pooling applications if we wanted to help attendees work together to save on cars.


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All of the organisers tend to drive – mainly because we are there early to late and need to bring a large amount of gear to the venue. Over the years we’ve grown to the point that we can’t fit all the gear in our cars and have to hire the van. This year we shipped 99% of the swag and anything else we needed to my parents’’ as they are home most of the time and to save all the last minute car shuffle of gear and store all the left overs and infrastructure at my house.

Future Thoughts…

The effort we put into reducing waste was really well received so I’m keen to do more to improve in the future.

Our 3 main areas for improvement are:

  • Coffee Cups
  • Waste Separation
  • Utensils

I’m In … SheEO

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Over my career, I’ve tried to engage, share and help the community. Originally, it was more in the technical community or the upcoming technical community. More recently I’ve tried to broaden that as I’ve been involved with wildlife care and Boomerang Bags etc.

Coming from a male-dominated, technical industry it has really struck me a lot of the local, community-based start-ups have been female led. In the back of my mind I was looking for a way I could help these groups. I stumbled upon a tweet from a Microsoft Sydney staffer about SheEO and #RadicalGenerosity and I realised this was a good place for me to start as an activator.

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This quote in their resources really resonated. As an activator, as I voted for both the semi-finalists and the finalists I also discovered some amazing businesses around the country and I’m proud to be one this list of women who all contribute in the future success of these businesses in small but possibly life-changing ways

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On my recent trip overseas I took advantage of this global community and caught up with a Canadian Activator while in Vancouver. What a great way to meet amazing people!

Today was the announcement of the inaugural winners for this years ventures:

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I wish them all the best with their ventures and looking at the group of women they have to support them I think the future is bright.

Coaching students–what I learnt

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Last year I tried something a bit different and was the “Agile Coach” for the 3rd year university students for their industry project. Throughout the year, I coached (I prefer mentored as coach makes me think of PE at school which I hated) around 70 different teams of students. It was very intense was I found it so much fun!

Now that I reflect back, it was interesting to see the common patterns that occurred in the teams and how most of the things are relevant to most teams today. I thought I’d list the top 5 that were common.


Pick Up The Phone

At first I put this down to a generational thing but then when I looked around the workplace and thought about some problems projects had had it seems to be common everywhere. Many of the groups were having trouble getting information/feedback from their users. They’d tried Facebook, email etc. and seemed ready to give up.

“Have you tried calling them?” – Blank stares.

It’s really easy to fall into the email/message trap when either picking up the phone or walking 10 metres to another cubicle will get you better results, faster.

When asking for feedback, give them a deadline

This one I see everywhere…You’ve sent the client and email / or had a meeting and asked for feedback. Then nothing…we’re waiting with no response.

Most of us are busy, many people are drowning in email and feedback requests. If we generically ask for feedback it’s easy to slip down our list in priority.  I’ve had a lot of success by a small change in my emails to telling them specifically when I need something i.e.

Team,

Please find attached xxxx document for review. Please provide feedback by COB YYYYYYYY date

Specifically for the students a lot of the time it’s an additional piece of feedback that is required for their marks and not specific to the solution their building. Adding to the date, telling them why it’s an important document / feedback makes a difference.

Ask the question

When you want or need something and you think you might get turned down, it’s easy to talk yourself into a state of don’t say anything.

Ask – the worst thing is they can say no, and you won’t be any worse off. I can’t remember who made me wise to this in my younger years, but thank you! I’ve lost track of number I times I’ve remembered this advice, sheepishly asked for something I thought was too troublesome, and surprised by a yes and am so glad I headed that advice.

Of course, it’s not always yes – it has also been anywhere from no, a compromise, to yes but I can’t think of a time that there’s been anything negative for asking the question (when phrased politely etc.)

Give your opinion

You’ve taken a certain direction, you don’t think it’s right, what do you do?  I see this a lot with non-technical clients who’s nephew said they needed to use a technology. It totally doesn’t fit with what they need for their business. I think you’re ethically bound in this situation to give your opinion on where that advice might be incorrect. If they choose to go ahead – at least you’ve warned them of the risks.

This gets trickier when you’re the junior on a team and it’s the team that made a decision. Hopefully your team allows you to at least ask why something is the way it is and express what you thought so at they can explain why the decision has been made. Many times, there’s other pieces to the puzzle you aren’t exposed to and this can help put things into perspective.

Talk about what you’re stuck on

We all get stuck sometimes. Many times the teams just need help breaking a problem down into smaller, manageable pieces that they can tackle. Many times they just don’t know where to start or are spinning their wheels.

How many times have you turned to a team member for help and don’t get past the “Can I ask you to look at …. got it…don’t worry….thanks”. This can be especially hard if you don’t have a team with you everyday. When I did a lot of work from home alone, I’d often say out loud to my dog what I was stuck on, or later to noone in particular. Just that switch in your brain of vocalising the problem you’re having, what you looked at seems to open other parts of the brain and you’ve solved it!

What did I learn? A lot of it was re-learning and remembering for me – the problems you have on small uni assignments don’t stop there, you get these in every day real life. The fundamentals are still the same 20 years later. The technology and method of approach can be different but most of the re-occurring issues are the same.

DDD Brisbane 2018–Wrapup

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Saturday 1st December we kicked off our 8th DDD Brisbane.

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We arrived bright and early for the 3rd year at the beautiful University Campus in the Advanced Engineering Building.

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The coffee team arrived early to caffeinate our volunteers and early attendees.

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Registration opened at 8am and our attendees were orderly, patient and understanding as we checked them in and handed out their swag bags.

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Thanks so much to all our volunteers that help out during the day, especially at check-in time to make this flow freely.

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This year’s youngest volunteer was Ryan who quality controlled the boxes, greeted our attendees and kept an eye on things.

To kick off the day we had Jessica Kerr give the keynote: DDD Should Take Over the World. Many thanks to Jessica and to our friends at YOW for getting up early and giving an energetic keynote.

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The Session 1

 

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Your A to Z Tech Survival Kit: @fatenhealy . Faten also brought along a massive range of stickers for her attendees.

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Engineering at scale: designing high-throughput systems for resilience: @uglybugger

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Are you messing with me? Cognitive Bias in Experience Design: D Churchill

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The rooms then broke up for morning tea: biscuits, drinks and more coffee.

Session 2:

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Field Notes : .NET Core and Docker in Production : @damianm 

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A Case for the Humble Developer: P Manouchehri

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Tech Lead to Motherhood : one woman’s journey from changing systems to changing nappies, and back again : S Taraporewalla

Session 3

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Fast, Concurrent, Safe: the Case for Learning Rust : N Blumhardt

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Marriage of Machine learning and eCommerce website : A Zanganeh

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Data Driven Diversity: L Le Gassick

After all this information it was time to queue for lunch

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and desert

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Now that everyone has been fed it’s time for Session 4

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Crafting compelling real-time web experiences with GraphQL and React: R Crowley

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DDD 101 :  S Morris

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Attract, retain and grow technical women: S Herbert

Session 5

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Advanced Testing Techniques: Tips from the trenches : R Moore

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Design Hacks for Developers : J Larchin

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Clean Architecture with ASP.NET Core 2.2: J Taylor

Afternon tea saw a range of cakes and nibblies

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Session 6

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I ain’t afraid of no Terminator: V Love

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Solving the problem of more work than time and money : L McLennan

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A Developer’s Guide to Winning at Cognitive Biases: J Cooney

For our locknote we had Neal Ford : Supporting Constant Change. Thanks to Neal and our friends at YOW for being there on the day

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And to finish off the day it was PRIZES!

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This year we ran a separate prize for people who reused their own coffee cup. We had over 700 coffees made on the day and over 165 people reused a cup!

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Many thanks to all our sponsors and those that ran booths on the day and interacted with our attendees.

I looked after the Blue Room for the day. Special shout out for a fabulous job to all the speakers in here.

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Thanks for everyone who helped, attended and supported us for the day. Look forward to seeing you all again next year!

Day 11–13 Halong Bay

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We wandered around Halong this morning – in search of coffee and to stretch our legs before our boat journey. There’s a heap of construction so the area will look very different in a few years time.

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We walked to the beach. Lots of tree planting with each tree assigned it’s own number plate.

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The beach was deserted. Lots of chairs setup for anyone wanting to look out to the back.

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Then it was off to our boat to sail through the bay. We had a pretty swanky room for the first night with our own little balcony.

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First activity was kayaking at the Pearl Farm. The vests were a bit ‘interesting’ – hard to find one remotely the right size.

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Luckily we stayed dry side up as we did our little cruise around.

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Next was swimming and hiking. The beach was a little crowded for my taste we we opted for the hike.

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Lots of stairs, 100 humidity but a pretty decent view.

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There was a bit of a queue right at the top to get a photo.

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Eventually we could see the view.

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Next morning we could see sunrise from our bed

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Then transfer to the day boat for our stay at the “bungalow”. There wasn’t a lot of time but thee was a paid option to go to the shore. I’d spotted the Canon Fort on Cat Ba and thought we’d miss it.

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So we got our little boat ride to the island.

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Walked up the 10% gradient hill to the Canon Fort. Quite cool with a few canons and ruins to check out.

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View to die for at the very top with a well-placed café for an icecream and a cold drink.

Night at the bungalow and then boat back to Halong and a long drive back to Hanoi. Now it’s really busy – scooters everywhere. Time to hid in our hotel room to avoid the streets of Hanoi Smile

Day 9 10 Nihn Bihn and Halong

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After a good rest we get up for an early learn to make your own lunch. Pork spring rolls, mango salad and beef with lemon grass. Were too full by then to make the 2nd main.

We had intended to go for a hike but the rain rolled in so we chilled instead. My great plan to watch some You Tube originals content was foiled by the fact it’s block here Sad smile

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There’s so many ducks around here. We have tried to explain we rescue ducks to a few people and they seem perplexed esp when we mention we don’t eat them but let them go.

We do the 4 hour drive to Halong today and it’s a good travel day as it’s wet and miserable. So starving when we arrive we settle for the hotel restaurant. It’s certainly more western with western prices to match.

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John’s first proper coffee for over a week Smile

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I was going to get a coke but the mojito is actually cheaper than either the coffee or the coke.

For the last hot and humid week I’d been looking forward to the hotel pool. I’m not normally a hotel pool kinda person. It’s so much cooler here today we stayed in maybe 10 mins before we got too cold.

Tomorrow we’re off on our Halong Bay cruise so I assume we’ll have no internet till we get back to Hanoi on Wednesday.

Day 8–Bich Dong Pagoda

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Our last shift at EPRC today. They put us both on the hill in the soft release area. We got to feed the langur sweet potato and the gibbon did come down for food while we were there.

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Our final lot of untie the bundles of leave and we were done. Off for our last breakfast, packup and our car is ready to take us to Ninh Binh for a couple of days.

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Elke suggested Bich Dong as a stop on the way.

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It’s a pagoda and it looks old till you see this sign (or maybe we’re just old).

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There’s a few steps to climb.

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You do get a decent view from the top.

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It’s pretty exposed (read hot) so we head back into the cave area which is super slippery.

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Few statues to take photos of.

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And then we’re pretty much done. We know we’re already back in “civilization” cause there’s already a lot of people. Our driver suggests lunch and drops us at what seems to be a westernised restaurant. Burgers, toasties and a few cold drinks later and we’re off to our accommodation.

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We turn on all 5 fans, drop the mossie net and it’s time to relax.

Day 7–Asian Turtle Program

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This morning was a similar routine of feed in the morning, I feed 2nd shift while John helps repair cages.

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It’s really humid today and we’re just dripping.

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There’s a new volunteer/researcher arrived and he’s staying for 6 months.

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After lunch we head down the road to the Asian Turtle Program to have a look around.

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They have some invasive species for education along with the turtles they are breeding to release. These guys seem tiny after the giant tortoise we saw in Galapagos.

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They had some really cool tshirts but unfortunately they were all too tiny for me so I settled on some turtle tape measures instead.

Day 6–Save Vietnam’s Wildlife

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Today was a busy work day. Overnight, on of the Gibbons had given birth so there’s a new baby at the centrey. It was hot and humid. What’s hotter than that? Being on burn duty! I got to stand in the hot sun and make a giant fire. By the time we were done I was absolutely drenched in sweat.

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This afternoon we got to visit the neighboring centre – Save Vietnam’s Wildlife. They have some carnivaores and pangolins.

At 5 we got a tour and then helped with the food preparation for the animals. Then we sat with the keeper who pulled up some chairs in front of the fans for us, made us a cuppa and fed us a few rice crackers before we feed the carnivores.

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We fed the Civets which were very timid. They are about house cat size with similar markings on their face but then spotty on the body with much larger eyes as they are nocturnal.

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Next was the binturongs, These guys look like a small bear with a tail. A bit like a big red panda. We hide the food around the enclosure for it to sniff out during the night.

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Back at 8 to feed the Pangolins. They are quite cute with their scaly little body.

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Day 5–Van Long

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Usual morning of feeding and clearing today. Had a slight miscommunication for the next session so we wandered around to grab some more pics.

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The babies are always so full of energy and inquisitive.

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While the adults are happy to watch the tourists walk on by.

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There’s heaps of stick insects in the centre and the gibbons like to reach out through their cage and grab them.

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We’ve been trying to work out what these big green fruit are – a kind of grapefruit.

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We wandered over to the hill to try and grab some pics of the gibbon in the semi-wild area.

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Fortunately the hung around long enough for us to grab a few shots.

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They are just a giant ball of fluffy muscle.

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In the afternoon Elke took all the volunteers for a trip to Van Long.

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We took pics of the rice paddies while we waited for it to cool down a little.

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Then Elke sorted out 3 boats to row us to the cliffs in search of the Langurs.

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The normal touristy route is to turn right – it has nice scenery but less chance of seeing wildlife…or left – less pretty but more chance of Langurs.

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We left it up to Elke to choose left…there was a bit of commotion when the first boat turned left.

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Her choice paid off – we spotted a family on the rocks with babies in tow.

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It’s cool watching them easily traverse what appear to us as sheer, impassible cliff faces.

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We sat and watched as they moved higher and higher. There’s 7 of them in this photo – not so easy to spot!

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It was getting dark so we headed back and our boat rowers were very happy when we tipped them.

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Back just in time for dinner and to hang with the local cat wanting to share our food.

Day 4–Night tour

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This morning I did the perimeter check. This was super tricky in the wet as it was a bit flooded and very slippery. On one hand I regretted wearing my gumboots as they are heavy and don’t bend and on the other hand with the amount of water my hiking shoes would have been filled with water.

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After breakfast I worked on enclosure repair. We must have replaced half the enclosure. New beams and fixed up all the swings.

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The itch to ride was too much for John so he tried out one of the hire bikes…loving the crazy coloured spoke upgrade.

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He went for a ride through the local area with Elke and a vet from the other rescue centre while I worked on Loris enrichment.

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The local kids joined in and followed.

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Checked out he local water buffalo.

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Then back into town to get some snacks.

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At night we met up with Elke to check out the Loris at night. First we found a sleeping lizard.

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Being nocturnal, these guys were much more active at nighttime.

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And they love insects! This one looks super happy at the insect we’ve presented to it through the wire.

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We also spotted a few grasshoppers.

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And a sleeping bird.

Day 3– Enrichment activities

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Today we ensured we arrived well before 6:30am. We spent the first session watching the Langur introduction between a male and female. They’d spent some time next to each other in the enclosure before the main door was opened. They spent a lot of time at opposite corners with their backs facing each other pretending they didn’t exist. There were a few tense moments where they chased each other around the pen but generally seemed to go well.

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After breakfast John was on enclosure repair while I prepared some enrichment items for the Loris. They eat a lot of tree sap so we make up a paste and mix it with other sap and place into the timber with holes for them to eat.

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After lunch we brought in the zoo toys we’d bought from Aussie Dog. we met Joe on our Thailand trip 11 years ago when he was making shoes for elephants. We love bringing along his creations for the animals to use.

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The keepers had fun working out how we’re going to use some of the items and paired them with some home made enrichment.

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The langurs watched the excitement trying to work out what we were all up to.

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Then we were off with our wheelbarrow of fun.  Delivering toys to the varying groups of gibbons to try.

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They were excited to see a new toy. These tube feedballs are a bit more complicated. The food is placed in the red ball and they have to get it into a hole in the blue tube before it drops through the bottom.

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They were quite taken by the bungee. Inside the yellow ball is a marble that make the all rattle. It’s attached to a bungee that stretches when they pull and swing on it.

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They sniffed, licked, tugged and kicked at them.

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The went back to the homemade version that they knew well.

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But kept going back determined to work out these new toys.

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The even tried turning the feed tube upside down to investigate further.

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After all that fun it was back to bundling leaf for tomorrow.

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Day 2–Introduction to EPRC

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Up early to start our first day at EPRC (Endangered Primate Rescue Centre). We’re told to be there at 6:30am for the morning shift (if we were up to working). We arrived and started changing shoes and the keepers were already zooming off. 6:32 and we were the only ones left. Mental note for tomorrow – arrive at 6:20.

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They found us different keepers to follow for the morning. I looked after the gibbon feed which involved moving them to holding pens, then switching their bowls of food over and removing the leaf from the day before. Bowls are all carabineer’ed to the enclosure. The reason becomes obvious quickly when you see how much they bash on things.

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John was on pre-release duty – walking the fenceline and collecting all the stick insects who’d died on the electric fence during the night.

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Then off to breakfast for an hour. Our little restaurant had the choice of sandwich or soup.

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The pre-lunch shift I helped out preparing a few cages for Loris that are arriving soon in the quarantine area and John helped fix another area. Just before lunch we were on leaf bundling duty. I’m still not sure the right way to do this task as we were quality checked with conflicting instructions. I’m sure we’ll be much better at this by the end of the week.

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With so much food we basically skipped lunch and had a snooze for an hour or so. Our accommodation is this cool yellow house. We’re in one of the rooms on the ground floor

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The afternoon was a bit of a rush as the keepers were keen to knock off early are there was a big football final on. Lots more leaf bundling which was getting placed into buckets of water to make the next day’s job easier.

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We got to help out ie watch as they medicated the Loris that are getting ready for release and then the place was fairly empty. This worked out great for us as we got to spend some time with Elke, the head keeper, who could tell us all about the animals and meant we could get closer to some of the cages to shoot through the wire.

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In the evening we were treated to dinner at Elke’s house with Adam the director with a massive spread of food that was way too much to eat.

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Day 1–Off to Vietnam

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We had what seemed like an extra busy last couple of weeks so I think we felt extra relieved to get this break. We’ve not seen much of each other with me working late many nights and weekends full of activities in different locations. Before I’d even left the guys at work put a counter till I’m back. 

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As the flight drew closer we were faced with the inevitability of a very full flight, no status, no premium class, no exit row. “It’s only 9.5 hours” John says at lunch on Friday. When I think about it, it must be 10 years since we’ve had to do a flight with cattle class legroom for that long a leg.

With a smooth and efficient packing effort we’re off to the airport in time for the flight checkin to open. It’s already a really long queue. I eventually realise we get to skip ahead as I’ve done the online checking already. With dagger looks from people in the queue we shuffle over a line. While the lady at the checkin explains it’s really full and we’ve got someone in between I ask how much to upgrade. My heart sinks when it’s more than what I’d told myself was my limit. After a looking at each other and waivering a bit … it’s done… let’s just pay the money.  The advantages of course are skipping through the massive security line, lounge access etc.

As we are waiting to board I look across at the queue of families with infants and there must be over 20 babies. We get our seats in our cabin with 18 others and I think already it’s worth it. I barely make it through dinner … all I want is sleep and the curl up on the lay flat bed till we hit Bangkok.

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When we wake up in the morning I look across to John who has actually gotten sleep and he says “totally worth it”. We find our next gate and watch the sun rise over the plane. This next leg is less than 2 hours but it feels a lot longer. Getting into Hanoi, baggage, immigration etc are a breeze. Walk outside and bam! humidity hits you. I’m now wishing I’d packed my shorts in my carryon and changed into them.

We find our driver, who speaks no English, and fade in and out of sleep on the 3.5hour drive to EPRC.  We’re met by our co-ordinator who quickly shows us around before heading off for a few days. Back to our room to change into less sweltering clothes, a quick tour of the animals then a bit of a snooze before dinner.

We wander into town to or designated restaurant, and pick at the food then back to our room. Glad I took a torch or we could have stepped on this guy on our way back into our room.  Tomorrow we start bright and early at 6:30am.

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Young ICT Explorers–Judging wrapup

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Yesterday I took part in judging the year 7-8 students for the Brisbane entrants of Young ICT Explorers. I’ve been involved in this event for quite a few years now and it always brings a smile to my face what the students come up with. It’s now a nation-wide competition with students from primary all the way to high school in teams from 1-4 entering anything they want to show that involves ICT.

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The top 3 for the day in the 7-8 category show the true diversity of the event.

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BinGo – These two young ladies created an app to scan your rubbish using RFID to encourage users to recycle more.

GPS Buoy – This gentelman created a GPS tracker that can be added to a life buoy to help track passengers overboard.

Electronic Roll – This gentleman created a windows application that used facial recognition to sign in students and mark them off the rolls.

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This group created an app to help students with math that also involved a jumping mat.

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We had robots

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Phone apps

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Arduino everywhere

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And environmental projects everywhere.

What’s great it to feel the buzz of excitement as the kids share their projects and support each other. It’s great to see students come back year after year with bigger and better things. I think that is a big kudos to how welcoming the YICTE team make the students, teachers, parents and volunteers feel.

Thanks for having me again! Looking forward to next year already.

Day 19–Ferry ride and Northern Lights

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Today we leave the West Fjords and head south on the car ferry Ferjan Baldur. It’s a 3 hour boat ride and we had internet connectivity the whole way. I still got a little bored and had a nice nap on the way.

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Looking at the forecast for tomorrow it was going to be overcast so we decided to take advantage of the sun and see the sights this afternoon.

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We decided to make it a loop as we have all afternoon.

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First planned stop was Búðakirkja a little black church.

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This one was built around 1703. There are what seems to be a large number of churches in Iceland and they seem to be from a similar template. There’s something about the couple of little black ones that really stands out or maybe I just like black and white.

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Of course we had to see another waterfall – Kirkjufellsfoss.

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This one had the fullest (yet small) parking lot we’d seen with people parked awkwardly on the side of the road. We luckily arrived at a car turnover and managed to get a safe spot.

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What makes this one worth stopping for is you can get Kirkjufell Mountain in the same photo is you take a panorama.

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Or you have a wide enough lense and can get a good angle on it. Here I was approached by some men (you can just see them in the pic) to help them with their photo mission. One was dressed like a caveman and wanted to get a pic of him with the mountain…sure … not sure why his buddy couldn’t take the photo. Once agreeing to assist his mate then quickly disrobed and put on a gag. Hmm…ok. So about 10 photos and high five’s later they seemed happy. Not sure how they’ll look as it was just on a phone and the difference in light was difficult but they seemed happy.

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I’d been refreshing the aurora forecast a lot. It had been forecast to be cloudly and activity of 1-2 but stubborn as I am I just kept refreshing. As the afternoon drew on it was going to be clear with a 3. By night it was a 4.

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There wasn’t much around on our scout worth driving out to so we opted to stay up till midnight and just walk up the hill behind town to the lighhouse.

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As we tried to find shelter from the town lights which totally wipe out your ability to see the green wisp across the sky we started to see colour changes.

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It’s very subtle as it’s early in the season but it looks like a thin cloud. The cloud will glow slightly. You actually see the colour come out better on the photo and I wonder if people don’t even realise they are seeing the lights.