Social media

Social Media is everything these days. We have Twitter, Facebook, Whatsapp, Youtube, LinkedIn and new media are forming almost every day. The thought “Wouldn’t it be awesome to start a new social media and making trillions of money” must drive many entrepeneurs every day when I see how “trending” things are.

Whatsapp has been very active and popular in the Netherlands and I have withstood it’s allure for years already. My brother wonders why, when everyone is connected isn’t it a good medium to reach each other? I guess it must seem like I am withstanding the tsunami. Like the people who tried to withstand the introduction of the phone. If you’re not going along with the bandwagon, you’ll be left behind!

But will I? What have I gotten from not participating in all the new social media? Why am I so adamant in defying the pull of the masses?

I do have more piece of mind. I have a good number of groups that I am part of, either work related or privately. Social media enforce groups, look at them. Facebook has groups, Whatsapp allows you to make groups and send messages “en masse”, the same goes for LinkedIn and I think most social media are basically made to reach large groups of people. Either willingly or unwillingly. Most of the media depend on the money of commercials. If they didn’t have that, they would definately not be free.

Is piece of mind worth it to be out of the loop? OH YES…

Is that why I am so adamant in defying the pull of social media? Yes and No. I have always been someone who wants an Op Out. Motivation can only be gotten when there is a drive. I have a great drive for doing things that interest me, things that have value to me.
I have an interest in many things, wonderful things. I am a thought leader at the company I work for and as such am very active in the field I specialize in.
The amount of mails, phonecalls, messages I get every day is massive and I make a point of it to want to help as many people I can. And that means that my agenda rules my life.
I train many people in the evenings and I drive across the country to do things that go above the call of work.

Doing all I do would most likely be more than 24 hours a day if I would add all social media that are out there. So I choose my media carefully. The same as I choose the people in my LinkedIn and the groups on the media I use carefully. Added to the stream of messages that I get every day are also the message we can call spam. Dealing with unsolicited messages is something I find tedious. And every media I use adds its own unwanted messages.

Social media are wonderful, but I’m old enough to remember the time that we did not all have a phone in our pocket. I do remember reading a book until I heard morning birds outside.
I have a happy married life and a good social life besides that. I want to keep it that way.

Remember, I am more than willing to answer your call. And I AM active on the social media I choose. But I will not jump on every social bandwagon that comes along.

Find me on mail, phone, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google and sometimes on Twitter…maybe I’ll add one or two more, when I opt in…

Never ending, dragging on

Coming to the end of a reasonably successful yet pressure-pan project I have to look back and realize a few things.

The project started under a bad premise. The company we did the project for, the client, did not appreciate the company that preceded us in this. They had built the Intranet and there had been some struggles to get it all running smoothly. There were delays and setbacks. So the client had build in many controls. Their Leninistic approach of “trust is good, control is better” meant we were unable to get their trust.

Funnily enough we found out that the roles should have been reversed. Our last stages of the project were wrought in frustration over the lack of control on their own environments. Their knowledge of their own systems was abominal, and every time we delivered a new deployment the issues that occurred and re-occurred were surprising.

Our predecessors must have felt the same frustration we felt. Suffice to say my team and me were hoping we could get out of there very very soon.

One of the assumptions I made at the start was that the client welcomed Agile. And frankly it seemed that way till close to the end. I was asked to give classes on Agile and Scrum and the advantages of Scrum were welcomed. They liked to add changes to the project and we complied.

At the end however they broke all the Agile values.
They wanted to stick to processes, interaction between individuals was reduced to email (which I consider correspondence, not communication).
Delivering the documentation (Technical Designs) was deemed more important than getting the software to work.
The contract (functional design based) was suddenly being quoted and we were being held to everything in it, despite the fact that the changes were requested by their “product owner”. They didn’t wanna hear anything about the changes and additions being additional work for the team as we were agile, right?
They implemented a plan, we were held to it.

A dream turned into a nightmare. Strangely enough the strive for 100% makes it so that we just can’t get out of there. 80% of the time spent on traditional projects is after all spent on the last 20% of the project…

We also lost the next project. I guess we are the new predecessor …none of us mourn this though

 

 

 

You live, you learn, a story about trust

Agile and Scrum are based on trust, which allows us to make decisions together. I trust my team to make the right technical decisions. As a project-team I expect us to be trusted to deliver technical excellence.
This also influences my behaviour during the project. And my emails (which are sometimes a necessary evil) are utilized to be clear and succinct.
When we started the project in September we started with a Sprint 0 which had a whopping length of one whole week. In this week we were supposed to set up our environment and to get familiarized with the backlog. Enough so we could estimate its size and select the first sprint backlog from it.

This project was requested by a government organisation that has come into existence after the centralisation of ICT projects and activities. As such they represent the government and use the company I work for as workforce to solve their problems and work their projects.
The actual client (ministries) ask them to solve their problems and they start projects to deliver solutions.

Centralisation  is something that seems to come in waves in IT. Any organisation seems to centralise at one point and then de-centralise in a future period. I personally have no problem with this besides the fact that in large organisations like the government, centralisation leads to enormous molochs that move sluggish and can only be governed using rigidly prescribed procedures.  By lack of something better, like Lean.

At the start of this project we discussed with them what we would be using as development tools. They had chosen Apex, and because we wanted to limit scripting we advised them to use Apex 4. This was a discussion for them as they were unfamiliar with Apex 4, but they found other precedents in using it in their organisation and went along with it.

Another one of our questions was on how we were going to handle the printouts. Oracle is not a word processor, and the existing application was written in Access and plugged into Word using the office connections in the suite. They told us that using Oracle BI Publisher would be preferred.
As they pointed out this was a standard we accepted this and I ordered a development environment with Apex 4 and BI publisher.

The application has many interfaces, most of them new to the situation as the existing application only has one (to Microsoft Office). They had expressed the wish to make this new application link in to existing government systems. Like the database that contains the “customer” information. There is also a link to the OCR tooling that helps them with paper forms, it had to be linked in. The document archive obviously had to be linked as well. Our ministry team had added another interface to the financial department, which we solved by outputting information to an Excel document as the financial department didn’t provide a link into their financial system.

The functionality in Apex was not so much of a problem. The team is experienced in writing wonderful application using Oracle and Oracle Apex and with the close collaboration of the business we were able to build the functionality that they wanted. 
Errors were caught early and fixed quickly, meaning we only had little irregularities in the software when they went into the user acceptance test.

One difficult issue was the incorporation of the highly secret algorithm that would provide a unique code to put on the certifications that would ensure customs around the world to ensure the certificates that the application printed were genuine. Due to the confidentiality in this matter the ministry requested that they write the last part of that. Hence we only supplied a stub.

The main returning issue in this project were the interfaces. All of them. As it turned out, the interfaces were badly documented. The scripts needed to link them were far to be found and as the ICT organisation did not allow us access to their systems we had to rely on them to provide us this information. During the sprints they slowly emerged, yet were deemed of high priority. In Agile we want to tick off the most important issues first, yet we were unable to. 
As the project neared its end in December we had already found that is would be impossible to get all the links in. 
The BI Publisher tool was another issue. As the output of documents was an important main element of the application this was very high priority. Yet as it turned out, the use of BI Publisher in the ICT organisation was very limited. It was used to output ad-hoc reports to pdf and not actual documents to printers. As we had assumed that a standard would mean they had experience with the tool, this brought on a difficult situation.

Building the required functionality went on unhindered except of the productivity of those in the team working on figuring out how BI Publisher worked and deciphering the interface information we got from the ICT organisation. As we were not allowed to work on the ICT environment they were mostly programming the interfaces blindly, hoping it would work on the ICT environment when they would be able to install the application there in an intermediary release. Most interfaces did pretty well, though setting up a test environment is not a quick process, so as we developed the interfaces they were also being slowly made available on the testing environment.

With difficulty we managed to get two extra sprints. I feared we would need more, but with the hope that interfaces would become available and BI Publisher becoming something we knew how to handle I had high hopes that given that we might still be able to pull it off.
As it seems, the interfaces were almost all available near the start of the last sprint. The sprint which I had hoped would be the “consolidation” sprint. And solutions to the BI Publisher problem were not near.
We had been looking for expertise for a while, but even Oracle could not provide us with a person knowledgable on their product.
It also turned out that the versioning between our testing environment and the ICT environment was incompatible. 
Near the end of the last sprint I had finally gotten a working access to the ICT environment for the purpose of developing BI Publisher. We were unable to install the right version on our own environment due to resource issues. I think the ICT organisation was not really happy with that.

Yesterday, as the team was trying to get all the work they had done on BI Publisher related user stories into the ICT organisations repository and trying to test it there, it turned out there was an issue. As the team member who worked on it was unable to find an immediate answer he asked for help on it from the ICT organisation. 
They felt we should solve this ourselves as we are the contracted party to build this application, and I got a mail telling me that they were disappointed in us because we had recommended using BI Publisher as a tool for output.
I replied that we had only recommended it after we discussed it with them and had started using it with the confidence that since it was a standard, they would be able to help us understand it. I also added that I thought we should try to figure the problems out together so we could deliver the application in time.
Higher echelons started to intervene, as they were in the CC list. They threw one of my mails at me in which I recommended the business project leader to get an environment ready with Apex 4 and BI Publisher, as it was the standard of the ICT organisation. This was a mail I had sent at the start of the project, because we were in a hurry to get sprint 0 items done. A mail that was now being pulled out of context and used to beat me around the head with, as I had used the words “we  recommend”.

You live, you learn…and I guess I have a lot to learn about covering my ass and politics. With this I have learned that there is no trust to be had in government ICT. People apparently rather control things by making sure they are not to be blamed for errors made.
I do admit I should have done some things better. This is a project that is not perfect, yet it is not totally without merit and I have learned a few things.
Next time I have a government project, I will have to find that balance between how open I am toward the ICT organisation. Yet I must admit that the transparency I provided to the ministry has turned out to be a positive point of this project. I enjoyed working with the product owner team and with the ministry project leader. The politics and back-covering is only a small shadow that falls over my experience in this.

A trying time

I know, I know, it’s been ages since I posted anything here. I would say I’m sorry, but well. I just have not been able to find time for much lately.

Life’s fine, and things move along and everything is swell…no, yes, well, honestly, I feel swamped at the moment. 
I have a lot of social network activity going on, most I keep pretty private. And there are some internet communities that I am part of. Then there’s the dogsports that I am pretty active in.
At the start of the new year things like these are always extra busy.
Work is also extremely pressured as the assignment I have, in a government project is drawing to a close. Which means there’s lots of things to do to tie up loose ends.
The company I work for has finally caught up with the other companies that have trouble with the economic low that has been plaguing the world and is preparing for a reorganization for the first time which will affect our professionals. 

What has me worried is how I will be able to pull everything together.
First priority is always work, of course. On that plane I run into several pressures. The wrapping up of my project.
During the project some problems have been building up, things that were not handled in the contract and as such end up pressing on the team. 
I have been pushing my team hard to deal with it. At the same time I have been trying to keep them from feeling the pressure that has been put on the project itself, which is way larger than I put on them. I am convinced I will end up a diamond with the pressure I feel there.
My specialty is of course Agile. Not something that my company is very experienced in, though I am. There’s a lot of request on this knowledge lately, yet people make up their own agile without consulting me, or my closest Agile colleagues, on anything. This leads to shaky contracts and decisions.
A wonderful thing is the technical meeting for which I have been asked to do an intro. Yet I need to find the time to fix up a good intro content for, I will only have half an hour for it.
A large pressure has also been put on me and my colleagues in the works council because of the reorganizations that will take place. We have increased the amount of meetings and will be working hard to protect our colleagues from affecting them too much, but also to limit the damage if they are affected.
Teaching is extremely busy lately. I have found new teachers to take the load off, but since demand has increased, I still have more than the usual amount of classes to teach. And these usually take place after working hours, on top of the time I spend on the project and works council.

Homefront is always my second priority. 
In this I find myself in a knot sometimes. I now live mostly alone in the farmhouse and take care of the house and the animals. I must admit that some things just seem impossible to get into my schedule. The dogs are taken care of. Which is the most important thing, as they rely on me as their owner. They are not given the attention I want to give them, but they seem to protest little. They are sweet creatures, though once in a while they tell me they are bored alone, and when I come home I find that the garbage has been torn to bits, or my blankets have been dragged towards the dog door.
The rabbit doesn’t get out enough I think, though I also think that the winter is not helping with that either. I would love to put the little man on the lawn to let him munch on the fresh grass. Alas, spring is still off a little, time will help there.

The dogsports, for which I am a coordinator of the sport Flyball, are starting a new season. We always start this off with an indoor tournament. This means quite a lot of arrangements. I have to get volunteers to help and find the right venue. The location we have been using for years in this has told me they have a family function at the date we have set, and the location we thought of secondly has told us it is not free to book either. I need to get this arranged post haste. Another thing is the meeting I have with the officials. This has not yet been arranged and need also to get done.
We had a misfortune last year, our timing system broke down and I had to find another option. So I build most of it myself. It is fine, it worked nicely in the last tournament we had, so I have been working on getting it fixed up and refactored before the new season. The old system still needs to get fixed and back from the US but my mind is set on the new system. Every little minute I get I start up my programming tools to get it fixed up.

Then the social networks…they are kept to a bare minimum, including the group of friends I have. which is hard on my and them.
On the two internet gaming communities some people have already dropped me. They tell me I have neglected them and as such lost their interest. This is tough as I have been interacting with them for at least 3 or 4 years. 
I love them very much and don’t know how I can make it up to them, nor how I will live without their interaction. It may be a lost cause. Though I hope to get back into their graces.

It all boils down to energy I guess. The start of a new year always coincides with a low energy level, due to many activities starting up and closing off and the weather. Winter is a time when people used to lay low, now it has changed to a hectic period in the year.

I know I will get through this. I always do, this year seems determined to bring me down though, and the social drama’s don’t help me much.

Seasons worries

I know it’s not a new thing to happen, near the end of projects there’s always more frustration and annoyances. Time and time again I have faced the mixed feelings of despair with awe and relief of coming to the end of a project.
But to be honest, I didn’t expect this level of it at the end of an Agile project. After all, all the important things should have been finished. The business may push for some minor additions to the backlog that seem to be very important all of a sudden, but this would only be because at that time the very very important things have already been finished by then.
Well, not in this project. I know the reasons, but it is just not possible for me to “manage” around them. The regular, and I must say extremely, annoyances near the end of projects are heightened by the fact that holidays are on our doorstep.
Let me iterate some of the things that I am faced with at this moment:
– Very important interfaces have not yet been implemented due to lack of expertise in that area
– Expertise is unavailable as the interface is such a new one for the Dutch market that there just is not a big supply of experts and those that we found are so busy they won’t be available until next year.
– Our development server inexplicably crashed yesterday and our maintenance team figured they could rework it this weekend (I understand that they would think of christmas holidays as being available to them, but the team has expressed the wish to keep on developing the last details on the user stories they started on.
– The government environment is so awfully non agile they expect us to do things their way, which is fine, but today they also expected us to provide the right scripts to environments that we have no access to and in my view we are in the domain of the government teams.
– Business is not available in these weeks, as expected they have a lot of free days and the holiday season leaves us with less than a skeleton crew to work with.
….I can go on and on
We will try to deliver whatever they want in our demo next Tuesday, but I am getting more and more worried about the last sprint that will start after this one.

Time’s up!

Saturday, my last day in Melbourne.
Corinne and me had been weighing options in the car yesterday of what to do today. There were things to do that were active, of just some things that we might do that were more tourist. I had also suggested things with Daniel, however he had told us he wanted to go stay with a friend in the weekend.
In the morning Corinne mentioned she had to go pay the rent, and if we could do some baking afterwards. She had mentioned that baking was a favourite past time and she wanted to do some experimental baking for xmas.
The morning was getting later and I had to be at the airport at around 5 PM so it seemed ambitious to do something more extravagant than baking. I loved to see some new recipes of course so I agreed.
We went to a large mall that had a bank office (one that was open on Saturday). The parking was overly filled with cars and we parked in a more remote parking spot. The bank was full as well and we had to wait a little. But soon the rent was paid and we went in search for some ingredients and aids to use while baking. We only bought some cookie forms and went on to the mall close to her home to buy some ingredients….some ingredients as we went back two or three more times when we found out we needed more.
The first recipe was “White Chrismas”, a typically Australian xmas recipe. It’s not a baked dish. Basically it contains rice crispies and lots of sugar and coconut shaving and is pressed together using copha (coconut fat product). The fat used is amazingly different from the fat I am used to. It is saturated and will be absorbed quickly by the body and not make you overly fat yourself.
The other recipe was gingerbread shapes. We bought many shapes to use and baked a good number of cookies. We also had a shape for a gingerbread house.
On the roll were also a recipe for rumballs and a xmas stollen (a northern european recipe for a bread/cake). Alas I had to go to the airport to fly back.

Flying with Virgin is strange to me, usually the food on a plane is included in the price, as it is I had to pay for everything. I decided not to take anything as the trip was only an hour and a half, but I did find something to drink as I waited for the plane. 
Somehow the security risks are way less on domestic flights as the checks were quite mild and I was allowed to take liquids on my flight. 
At the Sydney airport I hoped to be able to get something to eat. It turned out that at the time of landing the shops and establishments were closed and I found my way to the taxis to get a ride to the hotel I had booked before leaving for Melbourne.

It wasn’t much, it resembled a motel and most likely should be viewed as that. The hotel provided me with a room with four sleeping spots though. There was a queen size bed and a single bed in the small room and a tiny bathroom.
I had seen a restaurant while waiting to be served at the hotel reception, so I went back down for something to eat.
I figured the hotel was run by Chinese people and so was the restaurant. I was not able to charge on my room so I just used up most of the cash I had left. Well, I was not gonna take it to Europe anyway.
I needed to be at the airport around eight thirty, so I went to bed early.

Melbourne

It’s been a while since I updated my blog, reason for that is that I’ve been taking it easy while I stayed with my friend Corinne.
I’m in Melbourne now, and it seems to be a much larger town than I had the impression Sydney had. 
Reason for this is most likely the Time these two very different towns had while they grew.
The gold rush caused Melbourne to grow exponentially, and it spread out itself. Sydney seems to have grown over time, expanding towards the small towns that sprung up along the bay and the river. Whereas Melbourne is situated on a bay that’s much much wider. People didn’t form new towns, they just expanded Melbourne itself, and that was made possible by the new transit systems the rich town had at the time.l
My friend lives in the eastern suburbs, a place called Borona. Her house is next to a native reserve which expands towards the south. There are many birds and animals close by. Even cuckaburra’s that favor her garden, though they were pretty absent while I’ve been here.
S. far I’ve been in town with her brother Steven and his visiting friend Ash, just roaming the area around Elizabeth street. We went in a huge scifi/fantasy place, there I finally found a book to take along. And we went to the pancake parlour. I’m there at this moment as well, having a breakfast. 

After breakfast, a nice simple pancake dish, I went into the mall. The place is dominated by a huge building. It seems to be something of a monument, high, and situated right under a high dome.
The shops were still mostly closed, even at ten o’clock, so I went to see what they were showing in the cinema. I bought a ticket for Puss in Boots and had to pay extra for a 3D goggles which apparently were pretty expensive cause the price was about twice that of a movie in the Netherlands.
The movie had already started, well, the commercials were, and even though I was about 5 minutes later, it still lasted for a good 20 minutes more before the movie really started.  The ticket I bought was a center aisle, smack in the middle seat. However, as I got into the room I noticed 4 other people coming to see the movie, two of which were in the seat I had bought. There were about 500 seats, and they had to go sit on the seat I had bought. Didn’t they buy their own seat numbers?
I decided not to make a fuss and went to sit a few seat away from the center in the same row and almost regretted my decision as the girl of the couple in my seat was talking and talking and doing things with her bright telephone. Fortunately they silenced as the movie actually started.
Puss in boots is a fun movie, nothing special, but definitely fun if you like cats. Lots of cliche fairytale stories and a few skewed as to my memory of the fairytales I heard as a kid.

After the movie I went in search for some christmas presents for my friend Corinne. I promised her something and went to get some money. For this I wanted to use my corporate American Express card. As it turned out, the card didn’t work anywhere. I must have tried at least four major banks and a few smaller ones, until one of the directed me to Collins street, where I could get help with the AmEx card. I walked into Collins street and didn’t see anything that could help me until I remembered that there was also a lt. (little) Collins street. So I took a road leading north from there and ended up at the real Collins street. Such a waste of time and effort as they both are not level streets, there is a definite upward slope leading towards the west.
At Collins street I first tried my card again at one of the largest Australian banks. Obviously is failed and told me I was denied access. So I went into the bank and asked if they could let me charge money from my AmEx the old fashioned way. They didn’t accept American Express and I sighed and went off, not wasting time anymore until I walked back into Collins street and noticed an AmEx office next to it. I would have passed it first if I had entered Collins street the regular way.
They told me they could not help me as it was a corporate card. I protested, after all it was an AmEx card and whom to go to with that besides them. I could not imagine what place would be more suitable to help me but them. So they took pity on me (they shouldn’t, I can take care of myself, but they should realize their responsibility as AmEx agency). One of their employees walked with me to the bank I had just failed to get money and let me try it again. She told me I had to press “credit card” on the menu, but again it told me it was denied access. SO she took me back to the agency and called the head office. Apparently I had tried too many times and she admonished me for it (duh).
She charged my card the old fashioned way, pressing the cards number into a paper slip. I got the money I needed, and went away a bit disgruntled at the uselessness of my credit card (fortunately I had a second card in reserve).

Corinne texted me that she was having lunch in the cafe next to her work so I went back there and had a salad while talking to her and two of her colleagues. I also gave her the xmas gift I promised, a little early, but she needed it sooner than later.
I went back in search for a present to put under the tree for her brother and son. This I found in a shop called Minotaur where they have an awesome collection of Science Fiction, Fantasy and other type of books, items, collectables. I bought another book, I go through books quickly when I have no other preoccupations and I bought some nice presents. Funnily enough I could not pay with my other credit card. I had decided not to use AmEx for a while as I didn’t want any more troubles, but I ended up paying with it anyway.
The store however did not wrap presents, so I had to find a way to get them wrapped somehow.  I knew no store would wrap it, but maybe if I found wrapping paper…

I went into another mall and finally found wrapping paper for sale. I bought a roll and a little something for Corinne to put under the tree as well. I had to buy sticky tape along with the roll, but decided not to buy scissors. 
With a public seat that had grooves I cut off pieces of paper with my eyebrow pliers and wrapped the presents the military way.

Trying to find a spot to sit and read my book was a bit difficult. I wanted a cool spot, but xmas in Melbourne is not cool in any way. It was a warm day, and even though I had dressed the weather this time I did not really find a spot to match my taste.
I had about an hour left till I would meet back with Corinne for the drive back home, and I tried about three places to sit. The second spot was reasonably ok. It was by the side of the busy Elizabeth street where an empty bench in the relative shade of a tree gave me the cool I needed, but not the quiet as it was next to a parking spot and the cars came awfully close to my knee as they parked next to it.
I went back about 15 minutes before my appointment with Corinne and waited for her a little while on a small platform near the plaza in front of her work.

The evening was ok. Steven was off to his son and Daniel had taken possession of his computer, playing games he usually was unable to play. He did so till late and I had to tell him to go to bed when it was half past midnight. At which point he hastily left and I slept a little restless. The next day I would leave, returning to Sydney as I had to be there on Sunday to fly back to Europe.

Last day in Sydney

I had one final day in Sydney. So what can you do on a sunny warm day.
During the ride home there were some suggestions about that, but I also had one more thing to arrange.
I went to get a breakfast at the Macquirie shopping center nearby. The coffee I had on Wednesday was wonderful, so I decided to check if they also had breakfast, and as it turned out they did, they even served it the whole day.
It was fine, and the cappuccino was great again. So I went back to the hotel ready to spend some time in Sydney.
I looked up the Hertz rental address in downtown Sydney as they would not pick up the phone in the airport. I gave up after having gone through two score phone menus again and again. Definitely an answering system gone wrong.
It headed over to the nearby metro station where they sold me a day pass.
The metro took me to Central station and from there I walked over to Hertz and explained my toll road problem. They were very helpful and let me use the phone. I bought an electronic access to the toll roads and was happy to have had it handled within 48 house of driving on the toll road, which is the limit for that here.
I headed towards the park and passed a small pastry shop called Flour and Stone. I had a wonderful apple tart there and a great cup of coffee. I took a little something to go and proceeded towards the park.
At the corner I had a flurry of pigeons landing in front of me. They seemed to expect something of me but I didn’t have anything to give them, so I passed them and went up into the park.
It was as lovely as I remembered, yet the sounds were very different. There was a concert going on, and due to that a part of the park was covert grounds. There was a lot of noise as most of the tones were filtered out by the trees and only the loudest and lowest sounds passed through. 
I paused a bit on the lawn and after that went into the nearby museum. It was not a special museum, but I loved to see the art there. There was an exhibition going on about Picasso, the entrance was free, so I enjoyed the aboriginal art and the contemporary Australian painters collection. I even chanced by some Dutch and Belgian artists. One of the prettiest Pieter Paul Rubens was there and some very old Dutch paintings. What impressed me most though was the Australian painters with historical landscapes and visions into Australians past. The typical eucalypts mingled with brown cows, a very nice compilation of quarry’s and even a scene of a post coach being held up by armoured men.
I left the museum and walked into the botanical garden, one that had impressed me some much eleven years ago. It was still wonderful and though I missed the marsupial I had seen there before, the flying foxes were still hanging from many trees.
I found a toilet and left towards the harbour side of the park. Before clearing the trees I rested under a large pine. It was warm and I was dressed a bit too warm as well, so the shade was nice. I typed a bit of my report there, the part about the Blue Mountains.
When I was done I walked on, knowing that the next stop would be the Opera House. It was there, and. I took some nice pictures. Unfortunately there were some repairs going on, the stairs were being taken apart for some reason. I scaled the part that was not being repaired yet and found many people inside. This held me back a bit, I would have liked to have seen what was playing.
A huge cruise ship was in the harbour, close. It was next to the pier and I was amazed it could get this close to land. I don’t expect many harbours can allow such deep and large ships to actually dock. So I took some pictures of it as it towered out over many of the buildings.
I moved towards the public transport and remembered that the man at the counter had told me that the pass I bought would also allow me to get on the harbour ferry. So I found which ferry actually went around the bay. I bought a bottle of water and entered the ferry that went to North Sydney. It was there for boarding so I embarked quickly and had a wonderful trip around the bay, taking many of the Opera House from the water pictures.
It was time to get back to the hotel. I was happy that my shoes were comfortable enough, but my big toes were hurting a bit, so I went into the metro back to Central and from there took the metro up to North Ryde.
As it turned out, North Ryde was not my exit, it looked very much like where I left, but I found out later that the tubes at Macquirie Park and North Ryde were very similar. I should have paid better attention on where I went on the trains.
My toes turned out to have an indentation on them from the stockings I was wearing. I didn’t have blisters, and I was very happy about that. New boots can take a long time to get walked-in and I just have to watch which stockings or socks I wear in these.
I went down to the restaurant for some dinner. Again it was closed of for a personal function. I guess a company had rented it for a Christmas dinner and I had to stay in the lounge area. I didn’t wanna go out to a restaurant anymore so I took that spot and had an Indian curry (they had an Indian cook)
It was time to go sleep. A long day ahead on my trip to Melbourne.

A Viking funeral

The day of the Viking funeral was approaching. I had messages Diana’s sister Jenny about having arrived in Australia on Tuesday. She phoned me on Wednesday when I just arrived at the dentist. The face that I have a car made her suggest that I contact Tara, one of Diana’s friends. She and two other friends were coming as well and they had no transportation. When I returned from the Blue Mountains I called Tara to arrange something.  She was an exuberant person and announced shed just finished an impossibly long day at work. Together we figured out the route I had to take to get to her house and pick her and Dinah and Deborah up. Google is stubborn but we managed to whip it into the right route.
On Friday I got up early. I had a cereal breakfast at the hotel restaurant and left for Tara. Even though we had agreed on me arriving at 10:15AM I left the hotel at 8:50 AM. Getting across the bridge to the south side wasn’t very difficult. But there I ended up in a tunnel and lost my orientation. The tunnel took me too far east and my unfamiliarity with the city layout was not helping me a lot.
After consulting me map I found that the road I had landed on lead me in the right direction and soon I ended up on the Sydney university campus. I found Parramatta road quickly enough, but where to turn off?
After a while I decided to look at my map again, so I turned into Church street and looked for it. Parramatta road was behind me, so I would have no trouble getting back there, but how far, and would I not go too far out of the way. I knew I was close…so I decided to call Tara. 
After some explaining she knew where I was and together we found the exit to Old Canterbury road, from which I was able to find my way back to junction street, the road where her street was connected to.
Finally at her house I met all the girls and we ended up looking at pictures of my house and my dogs.
We left for Bulli, but first we had to get the chocolate mud cake, one of Diana’s favorites, Tara had one made at a local bakery. So we squeezed into the little white car and drove to a square around the corner. Tara got the cake, and another small one she had ordered and happily got back in the car. As she showed us the cake it turned out to have a superfluous n in Diana’s name…much to the dismay of poor Tara.
Off we went, to the beach Diana used to love so much. We arrived around 12:30 PM and met up with Jenny and her friends. Mom and dad still had to arrive, but they quickly did and we went to the lagoon with a big box.
Jenny unpacked the box. A miniature Viking ship came out and it needed some adjustments. The sails were fastened and Diana’s mom had brought her favorite pet horse to burn with the ship. The horse was worn, much of the hair on it was hugged off by young Diana. It barely fit on the rear of the dragon ship which had been filled with Diana’s ashes. Jenny lighted the ship up as we watched silently. There was even some ashes that had not fit in the ship, so Jenny scattered it in the fierce wind that was blowing. 
The ship had trouble burning, but there was enough lighter fuel to keep it burning. It took a bit of maintenance, but finally the ship was hot enough to burn on itself. Diana was going to walhalla.
The location and mostly the windy weather was not fit for the picnic that was planned for after the burning. Therefore we moved the event off to Diana and Jenny’s parents house. 
We had some vegetarian dishes, something Diana would have preferred and we drank some for her. Then we opened the box with the mud cake. Made sure to adjust the name with a big strawberry and all had a piece of birthday cake.
There were some anecdotes and some nice stories to share. The girls also had a pick of some of the pictures Diana had painted, all wonderful to look at.
Until it came to an end. So we bade them all goodbye and headed back to Sydney.

Dinner

In the evening of the 30th I returned from the dentist and decided to go to the restaurant next to the hotel. I had found a note by the manager about a personal function taking place in the hotel restaurant that evening. It explained the party tent being build up the day before.
The place next door was a restaurant named rumps and ribs. It was part of a chain and it was a popular place. This mainly due to the all you can eat menus and the huge portions. They quoted South African in their menu and it did remind me of what I’d seen in the most southern tip of Africa. Meat meat meat, except for a tiny item for vegetarians…but that was likely for those you bring along that don’t like meat. Obviously it was a salad.
The maitre’d was assisted by a girl who wore a big brown fake mustache, she seated me. 
A young waitress approached and announced she was Casey and would be serving me. I ordered a drink and looked at the menu. I decided on a small steak, still 220 gram. While I waited I typed out a small story about the dentist, still fresh in memory.
The steak was fine, I have tasted better, but I guess I might have chosen rare on another visit instead of medium rare. The vegetables I ordered as a side dish actually were rare, not the rare kind, but definitely undercooked.
In the meantime I watched the people around me. Lots of things to see if you take a moment to observe. A man seated at the next table wanted to go for a smoke, he spoke to a waitress and left with his bottle of beer. After a while a small family settled down on the table and when the man returned from his smoke he found his table taken.
They had huge deserts, I took a crumble pie and they brought it with a ball of ice cream. That was pretty good.