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Day 14 15–Heading West

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Day 14 – After a disappointing night, and a bleak outlook we weren’t keen on an early start so took out time to head west today.

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First stop to break up the drive was Goðafoss. I’d had it on my list originally, then removed it as there were more impressive waterfalls but last minute to add it back to give John a rest. Then a quick stop in Akureyri for lunch before heading to our guesthouse for the night. I’ve got a cracking headache – the type when John is eating cornchips on the other side of the room it sounds like a drummer playing right inside my ear. After crashing on top of John for a few hours I move to the otherside of the room to continue my attempt to sleep off the headache.

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Day 15 – Feeling super drained after my headache last night. We were going to go hiking yesterday afternoon but I wasn’t up to it. Big drive ahead today but we first head up to our original hiking spot at Þórðarhöfði to stretch the legs and see what the view was like.

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Needing more things to break up the drive I picked Skarð lighthouse as somewhere to stop.

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Once you stop you give other people the same idea. Had 2 other cars try and stop in out not even a pullover area we found. The side of the road was quite marshy and required concentration to not fall over and roll my ankle.

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By now our car is kinda dirty – I think we win dirtiest car on the road at this point. We spot a washbay in Hólmavík so John gives it a good clean down. This is good because the servos here don’t have the bucket and squidgy like home to wash your windscreen so ours is pretty manky by now. Don’t want to put too much pressure on the window though…case the crack becomes a giant hole.

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Once at our accommodation for the night we notice there’s a pool next door that closes at 6pm. Quickly grab my togs and off I go. Not quite up there on Icelandic poll etiquette so I clearly look like a noob. It’s a bit of a process….

1. Leave shoes at the door

2. Pay

3. Have a shower (no togs)

4. Goto pool (but not through the front door … through the shower area I clearly missed the first time

5. Swim (oops was supposed to leave my bag in the shower area). Seems noone else is actually swimming but just sitting in the spa pool things. So I swim till close time. Oops again….probably needed to get out 10mins before.

6. Have another shower

7. Get shoes back on

8. Say sorry to the pool lady who looks upset I’m running out the door with my shoes half on at 6:05pm

Day 13–Hunting for the Northern Lights

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It was really overcast this morning so we took the opportunity of having the same hotel for 2 nights and getting some sleep. With the long sunlight hours we’ve been having long days on the road and we’re both pretty tired. Things like riding around the lake I’d originally had on my list are out and hiking round a crater edge in fog is probably not the smartest of activities.

By the afternoon (advantage of long days) the sun is back out. It’s new moon at the moment and this area is good for seeing the lights so I check the forecast and it’s a 6! We decide this is our best chance as the forecast for the rest of the week looks bleek. So we head out looking for some good spots for photos.

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First up Hverarönd. It’s a geothermal spot with bubbling mud, some hills and decent views in most directions. This could definitely add something to some green in the sky.

On the other side of the hill there’s a decent look out spot- this will be our go to spot for elevation.

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And the base of the hill there’s geothermal activity and some water – great for capturing reflections in the sky.

Back to the hotel we head to wait for dark (even though the sun has just set) which will be about 10:30 onwards. Grabbing all our warm gear we head back out to spot 1. The carpark is empty and you can smell sulfar. Waiting, waiting for the light to go away we see a star. This is a good sign. Then a wispy white cloud appears to my left and suddenly it has a tinge of green. That’s it! Out of the car with the camera and it’s gone. Out to the middle of the geothermal plumes all rugged up and ready to go for the next bit of dancing green to appear and all of a sudden it feels like the geothermal plumes are on steroids, can’t see a thing. Gonna have to move.

Back to the car and to elevation. Up here it seems worse – damn…new plan…get away from the geothermal area. We drive east. We soon realise it’s actually fog. Driving, driving and then clear. Ok..now to find somewhere to pull over.

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Now in the middle of nowhere with no real focusing aspect we wait.Wisps of green appear but it’s still not quite dark enough at 11pm. We know it’s there for sure now as we can get it on camera. Now to wait for darker skies. The fog has other ideas and is starting to chase us so back to the car. Head back through town and try north, still fog. We hit gravel road and turn around. Last chance – we go around the lake…still fog. 1am and we call it a night. I check the hotel webcam in the morning and they got nothing. So sad that it was right there but couldn’t get away from the fog.

Day 12–Dettifoss

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This morning we set off on a little adventure to find the location of a photo I’d spotted – Bjolfur. It’s just before the turnoff to Seydisfjordur. It’s a small gravel road and all I have is my memory of the photo and a rough lat/long other than the name. We find the sign that matches and it is indeed a gravel road. We putter along and the road gets a lot rougher and rougher. We hit a steep bit with pretty large rocks…at this point if I was driving I would have stopped. John seemed to think it was fine so I held my breath and all that came to mind was the fact we don’t have a real spare…just goo and hoped we didn’t tear the inside wall of the tyre or we were stuffed. We made it over that bit and continued on. I don’t remember reading it being this bad. We hit another really hairy bit – very steep, loose and rough…again I think I wouldn’t have gone up….but up we went…meanwhile I’m hoping we don’t lose traction slide backwards and sideways and roll. As we continue on, it gets quite narrow and while we can drive now I wonder if we’ll hit something too 4WD and not have room to turn around. Eventually we pull over and find somewhere we can turn the car and continue on foot.

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The local sheep look up as we walk by – not sure if the ram (not pictured) is grumpy or inquisitive at our presence.

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We continue on over the ridge and walk up to the bigger rock area – this is it…this is the shot I’ve seen. So we grab a few photos and admire the view and head back to the car. As we head back down towards the road I re-check my notes and I’ve definitely written “passable by normal car and bus”. Hmm…me thinks I’m missing a NOT here and then also see my notes say 2.5hr walk. I think we should have stopped at the first sign…oops.

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We continue on to Seydisfjordur cause we’ve come all this way we might aswell have a look at the town we could see from up high.

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We go to the end of the road and admire the big cliffs around before heading back to town where we thought we spotted a restaurant that has real coffee.

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We pull into Hotel Aldan and they indeed do sell real coffee and as a bonus their “mains” are buy 1 get 1 free for lunch time which starts in just over half an hour…so we hang round drinking our coffee and then order some steak which would be hideously expensive but it’s half price so now it’s only expensive.

We continue north to our hotel for the next 2 days in Reykjahlíð, were we dump a few things and do some hand washing before heading to Dettifoss.

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As we have the whole afternoon we try both sides. First the west side (via the 862) which is a paved road.

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This side gets you really close but doesn’t give you a great view (in my opinion). Good if you like to stand in the spray and get wet. This also gives you the west side access to Sellfoss – again I think the east is better.

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On the way back to the car we notice what looks like a giant rainbow way up in the sky but like a crescent moon.

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Next the East side (via the 864) which is gravel. This is the side you’d be familiar with if you’ve seen the opening scene of Prometheus.

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This waterfall has a massive amount of water coming out of it.

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Upstream there is it’s little sister Sellfoss (not to be confused with the town of the same name just of the Golden Circle in the South of Iceland).

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It’s also very cool as it has so many little cascades entering it. The west side is also the best outlook on it. The path is a bit sketchy so I take my old lady walking pole. I’ve been irrationally overly cautious with rough surfaces and I thought this might give me more confidence. I have 2 big fears on rougher ground at the moment. The first – slipping in general and falling on my elbow which would be insanely painful. The second is using my left arm to push off or lower around bigger boulders and me not being able to hold the weight and toppling. I’m usually a slow scrambler but currently I’m tortoise pace. Eventually I get there.

Then back to the hotel for the night. This hotel shows last night’s webcam sky footage and the last 2 nights It’s had northern lights so fingers crossed we’re awake it it appears.

Day 11–Bye Icebergs, Off to The East

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After being told about the previous night’s Northern Lights I woke about once an hour and looked out the window in hope of the elusive green in the sky to no avail. Up early for sunrise to head back to Jökulsárlón to get the Icebergs in the morning light. We headed for the beach and noticed as we crossed the bridge it appeared empty. We pulled in and confirmed the beach was clear other than a few oversized ice cubes.

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We decided to check out the lagoon instead. As we crossed the road everything was still – the icebergs just sitting there and then like something out of Dark City the switch was flicked and the icebergs started to move.

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We wandered around the other side of the lagoon to where we explored yesterday. The sky had a light cloud cover when combined with the light on the lagoon gave it a sheet look. It was really beautiful and only 1 other person there. I was expecting to at least see a dozen keen photographers. We wondered if those that did turn up just left when they saw the empty beach.

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After wandering around for a good hour we ventured back to the beach. There are quite a few campers etc. here and even they aren’t up yet.

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By now some of the iceburgs have washed ashore and the beach is again littered with bits of ice.

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We have this completely to ourselves while everyone else is asleep. It’s like being a kid in a candy store. Bonus is because everyone else is sleeping there are no footprints – it’s like we’re the first people to walk this beach.

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After about an hour I’m getting a bit cold – even with decent clothing 6 degrees gets cold after awhile and we’ve probably taken way too many pictures of ice we head back to our accommodation to get breakfast etc.

We head into Hofn to get some fuel as we’re quite low and then head towards the “Viking Café” as on his land is access to Stokknes Beach. After paying, we drive down and for a moment I think I’m in the wrong place till I turn around.

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The big mountain as a backdrop, then black sand dunes with green grass tuffs and a tidal lake with just enough water for a good reflection – this is what I came for. We rand into a couple of blokes who’d been here yesterday and had a bit of a chat. They’d found Jökulsárlón disappointing as the beach was empty. Ha – they must have been there at the turn of the tide – it did catch some people out.

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We wandered around the black dunes – again finding spots with no footprints. The sand is so fine and a little sticky it almost feels like ash.

Getting on in the day we head back to the ring road and through our first Icelandic tunnel. This one is a good introduction as it has 2 lanes.

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Stomachs are getting rumbly and so we pull into the first town we find at Djúpivogur to get some lunch.

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Now with full stomachs we make the final drive to our accommodation for the night just outside of Egilsstaðir. Both quite tired from all the travel we crash –  so that’s us done for the day. Hoping to snooze for a bit and then wake up to look for more green skies through the night.

Day 10 – Off to Jökulsárlón

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While we slept last night there was a great Northern Lights display….bummer. The hotels really need a  “Please wake me if there’s Northern Lights option. I had checked the forecast earlier in the day and it was cloudy..must have cleared up.

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After yesterday’s windscreen sacrifice to the weather gods we were given another beautiful day. To break up our trip we stop first at Kirkjugólf – also known as “the church floor” which is 80 sqm of basalt columns that look like floor tiles. ‘

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Then an hour’s drive to Skatafell National Park to see Svartifoss. It’s a 12 metre high waterfall that has black basalt column formations. It’s a bit of a hike up the hill to go see but was worth the visit. The carpark was absolutely packed.

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Then another hour and we arrived at Jökulsárlón.

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This is truly a magical place. We wander around the lagoon part and take a stack of photos.

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It is high sun and we wandered around the lagoon. We found a few mini iceburgs to catch and take photos of. Problem is then everyone wants your piece of ice instead of finding their own. Walking around here is the sound of 100 drippy taps.

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The big iceburgs melting and every now and then a crack as a chunk of ice breaks off. I could sit here and watch the iceburgs do their dance with the current.

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Then we head to our accommodation to check in and then back again for sunset.

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This time we go to the beach section. You can see why it’s also called “Diamond Beach” as the little iceburgs wash up and in the sun they glisten and look like diamonds. It’s a photographer’s playground with ice, waves and black sand.

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These huge to small chunks of ice as like beached whales, washed ashore rather then sent out to sea.

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Some of the chunks easily fit 5 grown men standing on them. It’s interesting to watch families dodge the waves and as the waves go out rush to the berg with their small children, deposit them on the chunk of ice and quickly run back to shore to take what I’m sure is a cute photo. I wonder if they think about the fact the icebergs floated there and if they got a bigger wave could float back off again, dragging their small children out to sea.

Day 9–Vik And Surrounds

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After crashing hard and a good night’s sleep we woke to a beautiful morning. First we headed to Reynifjara Beach to suss out the area.

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Light isn’t good there in the morning and there’s nobody in sight.

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The sand is dark grey and full of the most perfect skipping stones.

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Short drive round the corner to Dyrholaey and up the hill to the light house.

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Only one other person here and not great light yet but there are some puffins.

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On the road we have to pull over to admire the amazing view.

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To break up the onslaught of waterfalls I’ve got the  Solheimasandur Plane Wreck on my list.

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It’s about a 4k walk from the carpark.

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It is so flat but you can’t see the plane until the last minute as it’s in a slight dip.

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That’s enough walking for the morning so we head to Skogafoss which is one of the biggest waterfalls at 25m in Iceland.

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I head to the base to give an idea of size. We pop into the bistro here to get some lunch before heading back to our accommodation to put our feet up for the afternoon.

Really needed the nanna nap and was lucky to not just sleep the afternoon away.

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Back to Dyrholaey to get some afternoon shots. Clouds are out so not going to get nice colours here so head for Reynifjara Beach to wait and hope for sun.

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windscreen

On the way back at, almost stopped BANG! There goes the windscreen. I’ve heard horror stories of people being charged over $1000 US for a simple windscreen so this time we actually paid the extra insurance. Still expensive and hopefully cheaper than the alternative. I consider calling about the windscreen and the thought of them telling me I have to go somewhere right now to get it fixed and miss the shots I’ve been waiting all day for put me off. So we park the car and decide to deal with it after the sun goes down.

Back to the beach and it’s packed. We spend the time finding the shots we want, watching the people and keeping a close eye on the sun. As I watch the sun getting lower behind the giant cloud and the people slowly leaving I nab a spot on the basalt rocks so nobody else does.

Waiting, waiting…another lady is impatiently waiting and easily frustrated by the crowds. A group is playing with their drone (one of the only places I haven’t seen a No Drone sign) and 4 seconds after launch a propeller flies off and the drone crashes.

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Finally the sun goes below the cloud cover and lights up the rocks.

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Time to get those photos we’ve been patiently waiting for. We’ve only got 1 tripod and no use us both taking the same photos so I’ll just be director of photography for the afternoon.

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Lastly head into the cave now the light is a bit less intense outside for some arty shots.

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Back at the hotel call Thrifty about the windscreen. I’m picturing spending tomorrow getting this fixed but they said It’s fine.

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Day 8–The Golden Circle

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Today was a massive day – lots to see and a long way to drive. We’d  made the right sacrifice as the weather gods were in our favour today. We had clear skies and amazing light.

We picked up our CX-5 – probably the grubbiest rental we’ve ever had. The good thing is we don’t have to be too careful with the interior – there’s marks everywhere. We got picked up a bit later than I’d originally planned and spent a long time going over the car so we were down on time from my original plan.

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The next adventure was finding Bruarfoss Waterfall. Finding the correct place to park and enter was the challenge. I chose poorly at first and we hit a barbed wire fence. Me not wanting to jump fences, stubbornly turned around. After thinking it might be too hard/too dodgy finally settled on parking a lot further away and walking up what we think was the right path.

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It was worth the walk. While not a big waterfall, the colour of the water was breath-takingly blue.

The ultra-touristy part of our day now started with a trip to Geysir. The massive carpark was full and all you could see was people everywhere. After scoring a spot we followed the crowds to all stand in a circle to wait for Strokkur to blow.

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My goal here was to get the water bubble just before it exploded. The timing is challenging and not all the explosions give you a nice sphere. Even though there was a lot of people, most moved on after an eruption. So after 6 or so eruptions and 2 different view points we thought we got some ok pics. We were never going to get the isolated shot with nobody there as we just don’t have the time to be here at sunset.

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By now we’re both a bit hangry….better eat before we get too grumpy at each other. The Geysir centre is pretty big but still struggles to service all the visitors. We settle for some overly priced sandwiches, eat and on our way.

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Next on the big tourist list is Gullfoss. It’s a decent-sized waterfall with the watet plumetting 32 metres over 2 stages. The spray is pretty strong – but nothing in comparison to Vic Falls.

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Again, every man and his dog is here. The challenge here is to get a photo (preferably with a bit of a rainbow) before your lens is so covered in spray you don’t see anything.

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Phew the 2 big tourist spots done and I managed not to punch somebody!

As a stretch task I wanted to see Haifoss – it’s the 2nd tallest waterfall in Iceland at 122 metres. It’s over an hour’s drive from Gullfoss,, I’m not totally sure of how to get there and it’ll add at least 3 hours to our day on the road. John seems up for the task so off we go. The road gets a lot worse towards the end but it doesn’t start with an F so it’s all good right. After following the powerlines for what seemed like eternity I know we must be ok as there’s other cars literally in the middle of nowhere.

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The waterfall is different again and amazing. The other amazing thing is he WIND! I’ve been in high winds but I’m literally struggling to stand. The wind grabs my bag and makes it a sail. I bob down to take off my lens cap and as I stand I’m almost blown on my butt. I think I take a photo..who knows if it’s in focus, steady or remotely well framed. My jacket is getting whipped in the wind so hard I’m just waiting for it to tear.

It’s now 4:30pm and we’ve still got at least 2.5 hours of driving to Vik so I’m pretty keen to just go there and do a bit of back tracking tomorrow. We stop at one of the bigger service stations to fill up and grab some food for tonight from the grocery store next door and then back on the road.

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I’m pretty tired now but as we approach Seljalandsfoss which is just off the side of the road the light is just too amazing to pass up. We decide to at least suss it out for tomorrow as it’ll be 45 min drive back here. This is the first place we’ve hit that has paid parking – 700 ISk ($8-9). Something about paying which I totally don’t mind and think is a good thing if it helps maintain these place makes me think may aswell look properly now.

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The goal with this waterfall it to get up close – you can walk behind it – and get some good pictures (preferably with rainbow) without destroying your camera. Our cameras and lenses are pretty tough but lets not destroy both at the start of the trip so I’m just taking my phone. It’s also going to test out my really expensive – yet so comfy hiking pants I bought – how wind and water resistant are they.

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It’s wet, wet, wet but so worth it. The light is amazing and not overly crowded.

Last push onto our home for the next 2 nights – Black Beach Suites. I took a bit of a gamble when I booked this place. It didn’t’ exist yet but I wanted to be close to Vik for access to cool stuff. Well by bet paid off.

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This place is awesome. It is pretty big, brand new, has a kitchen and the most amazing view- I think I want to buy one.

Then for some washing, eating and crashing hard!

Day 7–Bye Helsinki, Hello Reykjavik

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I tried really hard for some night shots last night but by the time the sun went down and was finally dark I could barely keep my eyes open. Luckily I was wide awake at 4am. I wanted to see what Central Station looked like lit up and this was my last chance.

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Of course I didn’t want John to miss out so I dragged him from his snoring slumber. Annoyingly it wasn’t as lit as I was expecting and people have put annoying street lights and signs that kinda ruin the frames.

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So these were the best of a lot of bad angles to choose from. Then it was back to the hotel to snooze for a few hours. Then awake and in search of our last breakfast. It was drizzly outside and not a nice day so we settled for just breakfast a few blocks away as there was nothing else we really needed to see. Then packed up and stored our luggage before a steak lunch – the last steak I think we’ll be eating for a few weeks and then back to the airport on the Finnair bus.

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I’d paid for exit rows and glad I did – It was a full flight. It also had no entertainment at all so lucky I had my phone fully changed. Arriving into Reykjavik felt a bit odd with no passport control and a barely visible customs. Outside our car was waiting to drive us to our guest house for the night – Heiða’s Home. The sun is out and there is blue sky so we go for a walk….for about 100m and then run into the supermarket cause it’s so cold. Grab a few things for breakfast and head back to layer up!

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We wander to the water to find the Sun Voyager and I remember what I think I’m not going to enjoy here…all the tourists. The light isn’t so great – the statue isn’t glowing so we get a picture and head.

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Then up the hill to check out Hallgrimskirkja. You can see it from quite far away but there’s a bit of repair work going on so not as stunning as some of the photos I’ve seen.

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Then a bit more of a wander before heading back to our guest house for some food and a snooze before or first big day tomorrow.

Day 6–Wandering the streets and Tech Excellence Finland

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After forcing myself to sleep at midnight I was awake at 4am. Eventually we gave in and had first breakfast cleaning off the food we’d bought during the week. Handwashed our remaining dirty clothes in the hope they dry before we leave tomorrow and we have as many clean clothes as possible for Iceland.

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It’s overcast and gloomy today. We spent the morning wandering the streets.

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If you’’re into architecture I think this would be the place for you. I just noticed a few cool looking old buildings and have no idea on the types/periods etc. as I’m just not cultured.

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We’ve taken the long route to a coffee place John has spotted down by the water.

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Then we wander back past the Uspenski Cathedral.

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Better get the full set while were out so we head to Helsinki Cathedral on our way back to the hotel.

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Back to the hotel to find some lunch! John spots a pizza place not far away that serves Rudolf. Bit of an odd place where you overlook the people in the supermarket below you. The pizzas are big and in 1 piece. Fearing being there all day, wearing the pizza or all of the above I get John to cut it up for me. Little bit too much food for me though.

Back to the hotel to put my feet up before heading off to our meetup.

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We walk down this really cool path which looks like an old railway – just bikes and pedestrians and it goes under the roads so no pesky intersections.

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We make a slight routing error and end up cutting through a construction site before making over the bridge to F-Secure which is a very cool looking building.

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Then it’s into work – and deliver my session on Cognitive Services. Had some good audience participation with some native Finnish speakers giving the sentiment analysis a go in their native language. Thanks Maaret for hosting us. If I’m still awake later will try and get some night shots as we leave Helsinki tomorrow.

Day 5–Helsinki

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After waking up early, realising the internet was out and eventually going back to sleep we had a lazy morning of eating through the rest of our non-transportable food and generally packing before heading off to Helsinki. Great run with no dramas and with the petrol station leading into our drop-off we bid farewell to the POS Skoda “Rapid”…. another car to add to the I will never buy list.

Found our way to the Finnair City Bus which takes about 30 mins to get to town, was only 6.40 and stopped literally at the door of our Holiday Inn hotel which is also right next to the railway, and across the road from a big supermarket.

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Our room was ready so we dumped our bags and headed towards the sign that said steaks and burgers. Little did I realize till later it was an Australian themed bar/restaurtant…oh well the food was good and the Ginger Beers a little big for me.

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Then a bit of a wander around to walk off that giant drink and to get our bearings.

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Lots of people out on bikes and small dogs – must be summer. Then a quick trip to the supermarket to get a few snacks/drinks and a nanna nap. On check-in they asked if we wanted to join their free club…I was temped to say no…except you get upgrade to faster free wi-fi – they really should open with that line!

So now with decent internet I can prep the last of the screenshots etc I need for tomorrow night – much less stressed now.

Day 4–Spin around the Archipelago

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After another bad night of sleep with a throbbing arm I was wide awake for 3:30am. Switching sides had made it a lot better meaning my good side got bumped in the night. Good time to do the previous day’s post. I’ve given up on finishing my deck till I get to Helsinki tomorrow where we should have better internet.

The sun is out and the temperature down to 8.5. You’d never tell in our little cabin which seems to have 30cm thick walls. I’d picked Turku as a place to do some outside activities : sea kayaking and cycling. I’d planned on doing a few rides around the extensive bike network. Having broken my arm and still not having much range all that was out the window. So today we’ll do a spin …. in the car … and when I say we, I mean John with me barking directions.

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The archipelago is littered with little islands and lakes…so I was expecting to see lots of water.

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We soon discovered that all the roads are the furthest from the ocean and the water is little private roads to what I’d call lake houses. So I imagine people owning a holiday home by the water and walking their dogs. My handy little $40 Windows Phone which as been a cheap GPS has been crashing on me at the worst times i.e. just before critical turn offs. Luckily we’re in no rush.

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We did finally find 2 spots where we could see and pull over to see the water. The first a glimpse at the side of the road of a little boat on the water.

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The 2nd we went through a bit of a pine forest to get a bit of a water view. The islands are covered in the most perfect Xmas trees.

We did spot a strawberry stand and “had” to buy a kilo of fresh strawberries. We had great intentions to make use of the sauna in the afternoon and cook dinner but I made the mistake of laying down for a nanna nap at 3pm and didn’t wake up again until 3am…opps.

I’ve been really bad with adjusting to the timezone change this time. I’ve been snoozing during the day instead of forcing myself to be outside. I think the lack of good sleep for the last 8 weeks is really making it harder. I’m not too worried as I want to be awake for sunrise/set for the first few days we hit Icelenad later in the week so it might work out well.

Day 3–Rainy Day In Turku

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As we settled into our cabin it started to rain. It rained most of the night and the early hours of the morning. After a full day of being out of my arm brace and battling for bed space in the not king size bed my arm was sore so I was promptly awake at 3am. I thought it’d be a good time to write yesterday’s blog post and polish my presentation for Tech Excellence Finland.

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It ended up taking about 2 hours to do the blog post because of the myriad of issues I faced getting the pictures and uploading due to the really poor internet. John’s phone didn’t want to stay connected to my laptop and getting 3 small pics from him took forever. I finally cracked open the Sky Roam but it was just as slow. Then I spent the morning ironically trying to get enough internet to grab screen shots for my presentation in case I have bad internet on the day. I had been so busy with physio etc with my arm, organising and packing coming up to the trip I hadn’t had a chance to get the final bits I needed…lesson learnt there.

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After a nanna nap  /  sulk that I wasn’t getting very far, John dragged me out of the house and we wandered into town to find lunch. The triathlon was on again today and this one looked very serious with bicycles leading out the top 3 in the Pro Men’s and Women’s category. There really wasn’t much open for lunch on a Sunday so we settled for some traditional Finnish Mexican Winking smile 

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On our walk back we came across Candy Land. Above is only 1 side of the store. It is probably the biggest lolly shop I’ve seen so of course I had to get 2 of everything. This actually took awhile with the giant scoop and it’s going to be a challenge to keep the pairs together. I have no idea what half of them are as they’re in Finnish.

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It started to pour down on the final leg home and this time I packed our shell jackets. We tried out the sauna that’s attached to our bathroom. It’s a timber-fired sauna. As John fed the wood and I feed the humidity we watched the temperature gauge rise…30, 35,40, 45, 50, 55, 60. My final bit of water at 60 sent me from hmmmm…it’s warm and I’m starting to sweat to OMG my lungs are burning, I can’t breathe and I feel dizzy so that was me tapping out. John endured a bit more humidity till about 65 before calling it a day. Mental note – don’t sit in the hottest corner.

Day 2–Cruisy Drive to Turku

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After crashing hard, unsurprisingly I woke up crazy early. Luckily I packed a bag of lollies we quickly devoured at 2am. We have heaps of time to kill before we head to Turku so lots of light napping till about 8 when we venture out to the big shopping centre on the other side of the highway to get some breakfast / dinner.

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After wandering around, Hesburger is open and the guy recommends getting the Mega Burger if we’re starving. It really was mega – can barely get it into my mouth it is so big and I struggle to eat it one-handed buy manage to not wear it. Now that my rumbling stomach is satisfied we head to the supermarket. Kinda odd but I like just looking through overseas supermarkets.

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Here we see the best supermarket trolley ever! It made me want to be a little kid again…a trolley that is a toy car the kids “drive” while you shop.

This supermarket is like a Big W and Woolies in one and they have a decent Lego section. I did really well to not buy Lego – maybe on our way back to Helsinki Winking smile

Wise choice to eat first as there’s lots of yummy food here and we do well to not buy the whole supermarket as we have to walk this stuff back to our hotel.

We pack up and catch the convenient shuttle back to the airport and find the rental cars. The lady on the desk is quite amused we’re using John’s credit card but I tell him which one to use. We get the crucial directions from her – which way to turn when we first exit the airport and off we go to grab our little red Skoda.

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Our AirBnB host recommended stopping at Kasvihouneilmio on the way to Turku at the halfway point and described it as “an experience”. It’s just off the highway and looks like a giant shed. When you walk inside, not knowing what to expect, you think … what is this place. I don’t know how to fully describe it but “different”. It’s like a museum, 2nd hand shop on steroids but you can buy everything. It has craft books, golden books, swords, armor, chandeliers etc. I’m not a shopper but it was by far the coolest shop I’ve ever been to. Luckily for our bank account it’s in Finland or I could have easily bought half the shop.  We settled on an eagle door knocker and some card boxes.

Then last bit of our journey to Turku. John as done well with driving on the wrong side of the road with a manual car. It looks odd watching him shift gears with his right arm.

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We arrive at our little guest house for the next few days, meet our host who gives us lots of little tips and decide to stretch our legs. We wander down to the river, jump on the free ferry and walk around.

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We’ve arrived at the end of a triathalon so there’s a big range of bikes around. Starts to look grey so we head back via the smaller supermarket to grab some cold goods and food for dinner and make it back as it’s starting to rain.

The internet where we are in Turku is atrocious….which is saying something cause we have really bad internet at home. Next posts maybe a few days away

Day 1– To Helsinki

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Our journey began with a delayed flight. Many thanks to Cathay Pacific for the sms around 6pm to tell us our flight was delayed till 2am so we could alter our pickup and spend a little less time at the airport. Unsurprisingly it is fairly quiet at that time so getting through security was pretty quick.  My tiny zippers in my pants set of the body scanner and good to know that my titanium arm doesn’t show up.  Then just a lot of waiting and micronapping.

I booked us a bulkhead which worked out pretty good – extra legroom without the annoying people that gather at normal exit rows. Got a bit addicted to the live plane camera on our take/off and landing. After leaving 1.5 hours late they made up a bit of time and didn’t land that late into Hong Kong. Enough to grab something to eat and stretch our legs.

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I’d booked us an exit row for the 2nd leg on  Finnair. We’d also bid on a business class upgrade and got denied. Exit row was going to be better than nothing until my ticket beeped boarding. Our wishes were granted – we’d been upgraded. It really makes such a difference! Discovered I can’t put on the nice bose headphones so needed help getting those on and after that it was time to relax and get a bit of sleep.

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The crew were great – kept us fed and let me sleep. Having done lots of trips to the americas and africa it was odd to get up mid flight and be flying over land rather than ocean.

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Little flight map showed the dog-legged route we took.

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Finally touchdown into Helsinki. Our passports didn’t work on the machines so we had to queue to go through customs. It’s odd not having to fill out arrival documents full of trick questions. Our bags timed themselves nicely to arrive as we hit the carousel and then we ventured outside to find the hotel bus, made it to the hotel and collapsed.

Adelaide .Net–Reality Check–HoloLens wrap up

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Last night I showed of HoloLens to the Adelaide .Net User Group.

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We had a decent number of people hear about VR/AR and MR but I think they were all keen to check out the device.

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After going through the basics with everyone to explain gaze and gestures like Airtap and Bloom it was time to hand it over.

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My first volunteer got it really quickly and after turning my back for a few seconds was happily navigating around the holograms.

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He also took to Dippy and after one voice command had already guessed what the next few were. Like most people he created a huge collection of diprotodons.

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Next volunteer had a go at air tap and voice commands after we showed how to use it with the emulator.

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But as you can see by the massive grin, even the simplest of apps that we can build makes people happy.

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My last demo was of Robo Raid – and boy did this volunteer have fun.

Thanks David for the pics and the invitation. Love seeing people enjoying this tech.

Reality Check : HoloLens with Aberfoyle Park High

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Today was an early-ish start as I’m off to Adelaide. While I’m here I’m meeting a few different places/people and first on my list is Aberfoyle Park High School.

Thanks to David Gardiner, I was welcomed to present to the Grade 8 advanced math classes. I wasn’t sure what would excite them but I thought if anything would, HoloLens would.

It’s the first presentation I’ve done where I had questions before I even opened my mouth!

I started with the “boring stuff” – how I got into IT, what sorts of things I work on etc. and included a few pics or the technology I grew up with for some context.

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Out of all the pictures I showed Donkey Kong got the biggest reaction as it seems a lot of  Dad’s had one of these…which is not surprising since their dad is probably a similar age to me.

With the boring stuff over, it was time to bring out something more fun. The vibe in the room immediately changed from disinterest/distracted to electric!

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David’s daughter had a play with the HoloLens before the session and kindly allowed me to take a pic…

I had no shortage of volunteers to show off how the device works. The students played with Dippy endlessly putting in on people’s laps, changing from female, to male to babies.

There were endless ooohhs, ahhhs and of course “Can I have the next turn?”

In amongst all of that there were good questions. Including what Dippy was for. Again I was surprised that some of the students knew what a Diprotodon was.

I was also really impressed (but not surprised) at how quickly the students “got” the airtap and gaze. Most of them preferred the “C” method and quickly adapted to turning their waist rather than their head when they had their hand in front.

Thanks to the teachers who allowed me to take over their class for the afternoon and then would have had to get them to concentrate afterwards.

Ignite Australia 2017 Wrap-up

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Last week I had the pleasure to present at Ignite Australia. I’ve missed the last few as it’s coincided with overseas trips so moving to February worked out well.

I presented Lessons from Hollywood: Building the interactions of tomorrow today. It was a big different to the techy talks I normally do as it was a bit more conceptual and covered a lot of things in a broader way.

Overall I was happy with it and I got to show Dippy to one lucky audience member. It was really nice a few people found me on the Thursday and asked if they could meet Dippy and lucky for them I  just so happened to have my HoloLens with me.

I had some fun with the projector half way through an could no longer see anything on my laptop screen even after trying duplicate, extend etc so just had to suck it up and demo from the projector.

Had a bit of a demo glitch but people didn’t seem to mind too much.

I showed a bunch of technologies and hopefully gave people some ideas.

Things we covered:

Surface Dial and the new Radial Controller Class

Kinect For Windows

Power BI

HoloLens

Cognitive Services

You can check out the presentation here. Unfortunately you miss out on seeing all the awesome audience participation I had as it’s just the laptop and microphone feed.

Creating a Diprotodon for HoloLens–Dippy is Born

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I recently presented at Ignite Australia on Lessons from Hollywood: Building the interactions of tomorrow today . For that talk and for fun I wanted to create something from scratch rather than use assets someone else made. Now I have 0 graphical ability but fortunately my brother Adrian did get those genes instead.

My brief was I wanted a model I could use in HoloLens. Something a bit different to the cat, dog, ballerina etc that you see all the time. Would also be nice to have an Australian theme to it incase I want to show this overseas there’s an extra element of Aussie about it Smile

He suggested a Diprotodon (essentially a giant prehistoric wombat) which is the largest known marsupial ever to have lived.

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Stage 1 – The Model.

First he built the model and exported it with a decent poly count as an fbx. I import that to my unity project, pick a point in space to place it and ta-da diprotodon model. At this point I thought he looked pretty good and it was time to name him (the hardest thing in software development) so what’s more Aussie than shortening his title – so we went with Dippy

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Stage 2 – Textured Model.

He looked pretty good and I sent through some pics I took from the HoloLens so  then Adrian went away and created a textured version – you can see fur and nose texture here but no colour etc.

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Stage 3 – Adding some colour

Next we wanted to make him look like a wombat so Adrian created the “maps”. 4 files that I had no idea what to do with (cause I’m a dev not a designer).

I went through a few different shaders and with some chat help we decided the most appropriate was the Standard (Specular)

and then matched them up to the maps he’d given me

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I had to cheat and look up what some of these meant to help with the guess work but here’s my non-designer summary:

Albedo – base colour or diffuse map. Defines the colour of diffused light. This one I matched up to the dip_diffuse or as I like to call it the coloured fur map.

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Specular – for shininess and highlight colour. I used his naming to initially match this one to dip_specular.

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Occlusion – greyscale or as i call it the black and white dippy which matched to dip_ao.

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Normal – allows you add some detail like bumps, scratches etc. This matched up to dip_normal

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My final shader looked like this.

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He looked pretty cool at this point but there was  a bit of a shimmer. We tried a few things like dropping poly count but then i noticed it on most holograms – even the simple cat in the Holograms app. So I left it for a bit.

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Stage 4 – Scanlines

For my demo, I wanted to show 2 different ways of using the same model but with different “definition”. In this case I wanted the same polycount but different maps – 1 with detailed fur and another will something simpler so you knew it was a diprotodon but didn’t need the detailed colour.

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This time I used the  HoloToolkit Standard Fast Shader and dropped the dip_scan_line map onto albedo, emission and detail.

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Stage 5 – Fixing the shimmer

Presentation done but the shimmer was still bugging me. Took me a bunch of goes to capture it but you can see it on a few of the pics above but I think this one highlights it best. The Dippy on the left to me really stands out with the edges.

So I took advantage of the Unity guys being at Ignite and showed them. I really wanted to know if it’s something we should have done at the model level, the Unity level or even a code level. John suggested the Anti-Aliasing settings for the project.

Normally all the doco points to picking “Fastest” / “worst” and nothing else and anti aliasing is set to Disabled by default.

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We made the simple change to set Anti Aliasing to 4x Multi Sampling. Re-deployed that and wow what a difference that made

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That shimmer is gone!

Using the C for Airtap in HoloLens

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When I first used HoloLens almost two years ago I was taught the air tap. I looked a lot like the picture above. It worked for me and I was content.

A few months ago, I got my own device and started sharing how cool the device was. So then I had to teach people how to air tap.

Airtap open

Finger straight up in the air, then bend and the main joint to the hand.

Airtap close

I soon noticed a lot of people found this hard. No matter how many times i showed or demoed they would have trouble. A lot of them would bend at the wrong joint .

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This type of motion doesn’t get picked up. They’d get frustrated and in a lot of cases would move on to a grabbing motion.

So hatting to my fellow MVPs who also love HoloLens I quickly discovered it isn’t just my bad teaching and that a lot of people had seen the same thing. Someone (sorry guys I can’t remember which of you mentioned this first) said try using a C and making them close it like a pinch. I tried this myself a few times and it seemed to be detected just aswell as the traditional air tap.

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So at my Ignite presentation I taught half the room the official way and half the room the other. So 2nd half of the room I got them to make a C, then close

C Close

I thought that was the end of the story. The next day of of the people who went to my talk came to find me. He’d done a HoloLens experience the day before and had spent 20 mins doing air tap. He said the taught way left him with a really sore hand and that he had gone back again today and used the C I taught him the eventing before and had no issues.

So….teach people a few different ways to do a gesture to see what works for them. I’m finding the C is a great alternative so far.

Fixing "Something went wrong" page with error ADDriverStoreAccessNonLocalException

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Recently we saw a change to our outlook.com and it upgraded our accounts. My account went through fine and I see the layout on the right. One of our other accounts however didn’t.  Took awhile to notice..no new emails were arriving and sending emails weren’t working. Odd.

Then when you tried outlook.com all we saw was:

“Something went wrong” page with error ADDriverStoreAccessNonLocalException

Not very useful. After a lot of searching eventually I stumbled upon this article.  Ours is setup as a custom domain so changing anything now as this feature no longer exists is always scary.

The proposed solutions where:

  • rename account – not going to happen as we want this domain.
  • add another alias and make it the primary –This looked like our best bet.

Reading the recommended article it wasn’t clear what would happen and I was super paranoid about losing the data or the email address as i don’t think it’s easy to get back.

In the end after much worry this is what worked:

  • Add a new alias – for this we added a new XXX.outlook.com that didn’t have sign-in ability
  • Once that was there – marked it as the primary alias

STOP HERE! We made sure we didn’t remove the old alias. The we were able to once again login with the old alias/password and can send/receive emails once again.

Using Face API to Enhance My Travel Booking Evaluation

Yesterday I analysed the sentiment of a potential travel booking for a trip.

I looked at the data a bit further. For each of the reviewers there was a bit more information available.

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The had the review distribution, the home town, age bracket and gender. This could help me further decide if I want to use their review in my evaluation.

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Annoyingly for thiis experiment a lot didn’t have a location, age or gender. Sadly, when i looked at the data on 42 of my 108  (39%)reviewers had published their age and gender. Almost everyone has some sort of profile picture though.

So I decided to try to add to my data by taking everyone who didn’t have a gender and age, grabbing their profile picture and putting through the Face API to get it’s guess at their age and gender.

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For example, this profile had no age and gender and the face and running https://westus.api.cognitive.microsoft.com/face/v1.0/detect?returnFaceId=true&returnFaceLandmarks=false&returnFaceAttributes=age,gender with the correct keys/content it told me the subject was a 42.5 year old female.

Then i did a bit of extra culling by excluding any results that were 15 or younger – as eyeballing a few of the photos indicated some people used a picture of their children (or what looks to be their children).

This gave me extra data for 8 reviewers bringing to a 46% dataset that now have both gender and age.

Now i’ve enhanced my dataset to have additional sentiment and also added some extra information to the reviewers I just need to do something with that data.

Using Sentiment Analysis To Enhance My Travel Booking Evaluation

packed car

Over the Xmas break we spent some time in Falls Creek. We were driving so we could take our bikes, clothes, nutrition etc with us. It was a bit too far for us to do the drive in one hit (event with 2 drivers) so we decided to do it in two hits. The first day of about 1300ks.

This meant we needed accommodation for the first night which presented the following challenges:

  • We’ll be tired after 1300ks of driving
  • Not sure what the traffic will be like so could likely be arriving at night
  • Xmas day – lots of things closed and possibly lots of traffic

So I booked something that was available with a decent rating.

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Then after the mad rush to gather all the bits we needed to book to do this trip I delved a bit deeper into the hotel I’d chosen.

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5 star reviews and responses looked ok

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But a few of the 1 star reviews and the responses were slightly alarming. Based on the fact that it was Xmas day, we’d be tired and likely arriving late meaning if anything went wrong we’d be sleeping in the car I promptly cancelled and booked the next cheapest place. But was I wrong to do this?

It got me thinking about how I could have analysed this data better in a more scientific way. I thought the Cognitive Services API could help me with this.

First, the site didn’t provide a feed so made this a bit harder but if you had this data yourself it’d be a lot easier….

I grabbed all the reviews and looked at what the Sentiment Analysis and Key phrase extraction could help me with.

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I did a manual test first – Took 5* review and checked the overall sentiment and the types of keywords.

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Then i did the same with a 1 star review.

All of the 110  reviews are in English so to analyse all of the records I only needed 2 apis:

Then I created a small console app to call sentiment:

callingsentiment

and after verifying that worked, extended to run sentiment on both the review and response to use the key phrases also.

So what did I find?

  • Average review sentiment was 70% (110 results)
  • Average response sentiment was 85% (24 results)

Top 5 key phrases

  • Room
  • Restaurant
  • Wifi
  • Bed
  • Staff

So could have kept the booking? What about the people that gave it a bad review – are they always negative?

reviewermissinginfo

So I looked at one of the 1 star reviewers and she’s generally been a decent star reviewer. I went to all of her reviews and ran sentiment analysis on them and found she was 82.6% form 7 reviews.

To me it seems to not be a negative reviewer by nature maybe just had bad luck.

Brisbane .Net–Reality Check Wrap-up

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Tonight was the Brisbane .Net User Group where Dave was kind enough to introduce me.

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There were so many options for what to show and talk about I had to step back and think that most people will not have even seen a HoloLens in the flesh before so went right back to basics. I’d done this quite a few times but on much smaller groups so that people can see and feel the device.

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But how do you get as many people to have a go without having to explain everything to each person…show and tell. So while we taught Chris as the first volunteer we got everyone to practice some of the key gestures., and voice commands.

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Next up HoloToolkit – and how to use a bunch of the prefabs and very little code to get a focus aware cursor, tap and voice commands going. I’m still trying to work out the best way to teach the tap gesture. It’s a really interesting one to watch people do and then try other things if they get it wrong the first time.

We also had a bit of play with Vuforia and the demo gods were against me. After it working flawlessly all day on the night it wasn’t having any of it on either their sample or my own app. Oh well.

Here’s a few of the links that people specifically asked about:

Buying the device (in Aus as opposed to US)

Companion App and how to get it to install outside of the US

Presenting on HoloLens – “Reality Check” Brisbane .Net UG 17 Feb

brisbane .net UG

I’m presenting at this month’s Brisbane .Net UG on HoloLens. Details:

Reality Check

Reality – Virtual, Augmented and Mixed. Join Bronwen – Microsoft Emerging Experiences MVP and get your reality in check.

This session will cover the different types of reality experiences and focus on the mixed reality of HoloLens. Bronwen will show you the actual device and how you can start building amazing holographic experiences for this self contained device. Don’t have a device – we’ll cover how you can start today without one.

Where: Microsoft Brisbane

When: 6pm 17th January

Signup: https://www.meetup.com/en-AU/Brisbane-Net-User-Group/events/236896115/?eventId=236896115

getting the Vuforia Sample App to work with HoloLens

HoloLensCameraSampleHierarchy

Vuforia have put together a sample app so you can have a go in HoloLens.

To get it going quickly I downloaded the vuforia samples eyewear 6.2.6 under the Digital Eyewear section and unzipped.

I imported this package and the latest holotoolkit package (because the setup and build is idiot-proof more than anything else).

I only cared about the actual scene above so selected Vuforia-2-HoloLens to include in the build.

I entered my newly acquired license key.

Then I built, and deployed to the HoloLens.  Then all I got was nothing. After repeating this a few times I realised I’d been silly – I need something for it to recognise.

So then I went hunting for the images that are referenced in the sample and found them here. Then I made a quick dash over to my parents place because I don’t have a colour printer and it didn’t work with black and white or just using my laptop.

Then I laid them out on the table and ran and tada…teapots.

For me there were a few lessons here…

  • Bad doco – although it’s kinda obvious later…the doco never mentioned having to print or providing a link to the file.
  • Bad UI – The UI is black. There’s no feedback so it feels like you’ve broken something. If it had a really big cursor at least I’d know it was working.

HoloLens–Getting the Companion app when in Aus

companion

One of the apps that can be useful when demoing and generally seeing what’s going on in the HoloLens is the companion app.

The problem it seems for those of us in Australia and presumably other non-US countries is once you get to it in the store (as the search doesn’t yield results) is you can’t download it. Even though we can now get HoloLens in Aus the app hasn’t been updated.

To get around this – adjust your pc region settings to United States.

settings

Go back to the store and you can download. You can return to your regularly scheduled viewing by flipping your region back to Australia

DDD 2016 Wrap-up

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DDD Brisbane is done and dusted for another year. After 5 years at QUT this year we grew yet again and took on a new venue. The lovely Advanced Engineering Building at UQ.

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At 6:30 this crew started arriving to help setup. We had over 400 bags, lanyards, agendas, many tables, lecterns etc. to get in place before the crowd descended upon us.

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As the crowd started to arrive the team did well to quickly process every attendee. It flowed pretty well considering the foyer here is much narrower than the past.

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The mountain of swag bags slowly become a mound and then petered to a pile.

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Damian kicked off the day with some housekeeping, including announcing some of the special speakers we had lined up.

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Troy Hunt kicked off the sessions as our keynote speaker.

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The main auditorium seems to soak up our 400 attendees but it was a packed house from the start.

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Session 1 of the day we kicked off with .Net Core, Surviving uninspiring workplaces and HoloLens

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The first break kept both our coffee carts very busy. These guys worked tirelessly from 8 till 4pm keeping our crowd filled with caffeine.

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In some of the brief quiet periods it gave the crew a chance to play with some of the

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After that bit of caffeine, we were straight back into it with some .Net Core on Linux, TDD and building walls around aggregates.

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The pre-lunch sessions (always hard when people’s stomach’s start to rumble) we had Identity Server, why is maintenance so hard and Serverless Architecture.

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As we’ve grown, we’ve also had to grow our food. A couple of years back we realised it was too much for use to be running around after food and this year we stepped it up another notch. The lines were long but these guys did a great job of feeding the hungry crowd.

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Post lunch, straight back into it with Search engines with .Net, Delivering more with less features and How to protect yourself from being owned.

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The sessions before afternoon tea included: Simplifying user interface programming, Developer to Entrepreneur and Industrial grade continuous delivery.

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Afternoon tea – the last chance to get a coffee and speak to our great sponsors. Minds were blown with the amazing experiences of the latest from VR and MR.

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Last of the technical sessions today and the crowds continued to watch: TypeScript, Agile Retrospective and a session on Blizzard Legion Launch.

0V7C13080V7C1364We had the opportunity to hire a bit of an alternate room this year so as a bit of an experiment we put on 2 half day workshops. Kudos to these guys who gave up half their day to run these.

0V7C1420As the day quickly came to and end we had the energetic Sidney Dekker for our locknote who left us with a lot of food for thought when it comes to counting mistakes.

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This year we say good-bye to our fearless leader Damian who is leaving us for Canada. It was really nice to look back at the changes to the venue, crowd and food over 6 years! It was also nice to see so many familiar faces have re-joined us year on year.

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It wouldn’t be DDD without the wheel of prizes supplied by our wonderful sponsors. Lots of happy faces. Can’t wait to see what people do with the awesome prize of the Vive.

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Of course the event would not exist or run smoothly without the organizers and volunteers! Thanks again for all your help to make this what I think was the best DDD Brisbane yet.