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Vegas: The magic and the tragic

13 Dec

You know when you’ve walked into a Las Vegas casino because your nose begins to prickle and fills with the highly scented air pumping out of the ventilation ducts. Of course, if you are not first assaulted by the smell, you are by the sight of the rows upon rows of machines trying to seduce you with their constant winking lights and promises of lucrative jackpots.

The casinos are vast, cavernous halls of hundreds of slot machines, which lead you into more spaces of craps and black jack tables and all the while some catchy pop song is being piped around the building to keep you pumped up and a waitress with more flesh on show than a butcher’s shop is teetering around with a tray of ‘complimentary’ drinks and a glass stuffed full of notes.

For many, Vegas has the marmite factor. You love it or hate it. James fell very much into the latter category, whereas I, as with marmite, could take take it or leave it. I wasn’t repelled but I would not rush back. I appreciated the experience and it is one you won’t forget in a  hurry. It certainly leaves an impression, whether it be from the overwhelming size of some of the most opulent hotel lobbies imaginable to the memory of a solitary figure at the slot machine at 10am with a can of beer already opened and the glazed appearance of one overcome by the machine’s hypnotic lights and sounds.

The hotels are like miniature towns in themselves, servicing every need from food and drink to hair dressing, clothes shopping and of course; banking. You can never run out of money; if you allow yourself to succumb, you might never leave. If you do manage to escape the hotel clutches, a trip down the strip is certainly a feast for the eyes. One giant road flanked by numerous sky-scraping hotels of unfathomable proportions. The Vegas lights are a sight to behold.

Some of the most impressive in terms of sheer size include Aria, The Bellagio, Caesar’s Palace and the one we called home for a couple of nights, The MGM Grand – all 30 floors of it with at least 500 rooms per floor. If you are not put off by the ‘tackiness’ of some of the faux scenery or replica facades, then you cannot help but be impressed by the attention to detail, the luxury, the ostentation.

At night, the Bellagio fountains are beautiful, the lights of Paris’ Eiffel Tower, magical, the New York New York skyline, remarkable and the showgirls in their feather headdresses, resplendent. By day, the glitz fades and you notice the street magician telling every passerby that his “amazing” show is about to start in thirty seconds, you see three tired and overweight Elvises giving a half-hearted “uh huh” to see if that can tempt you to give a tip and  a freezing Vegas showgirl stands like a half plucked chicken coaxing you to have a photo with her. You are accosted by ticket touts every few metres, offering “great discounts” on the latest name in lights and a bleached-blonde, walking down the street in tight jeans and cheap heels gets told, “you’re gonna make a lotta money in Vegas, baby.”

The Bellagio Fountain

The Bellagio Fountain

We went to Vegas and never once sat at a slot machine, although that was more to do with the fact we were there for a bitcoin conference. That, alone was an interesting experience and with the app now available in the app store, we were ready to promote it, show it off and meet some of the people we have been in touch with over the past few months.

My ‘media’ head returned and I was not shy in grabbing a potential interview or making a connection. We learned a lot, made a lot of valuable contacts, put business cards in a few of the right hands and were delighted at the response our app received from those who downloaded it or got to see it in action.

Talking to Bobby Lee, BTC China

Talking to Bobby Lee, BTC China

We shall see what the next month or so brings with regards BitScan but there is potentially exciting news on the horizon with some partnerships and affiliations.

We left Vegas in the dark with the city’s lights looking quite beautiful as we looked down from several thousand feet. It is a magical place but if you look closely, you also see what they hide when all the gloss and sparkle fade away.

(Pictures to follow when we have more reliable wifi!)

 

T minus 10 days

6 Dec

At the risk of sounding like my mother, where has the time gone? It seems hardly any time ago that we were talking about coming to the UK for Christmas “next year” and now it is ten days until we actually land back in the Mother country! It will have been almost two and a half years since we have seen some of our friends and family so we are, undeniably excited. However, ten days before we arrive means only three short days before we actually fly and that means a sudden panic about what I need to pack, buy, sort, post and finish before we head off.

With our birthdays both happening this past week, a huge amount to do for the new business, especially prior to leaving, and trying to arrange seeing people before Christmas and buying Christmas presents in time, the past few weeks have been hectic and at times, stressful.

With so much else going on, we kept our birthdays simple and organised a picnic with just a few friends on the beach last weekend. It was a lovely day and probably the first time we have purposefully gone to the beach for the day this Spring/Summer, as well as hung out with some of our friends for a while. Having Shan’s baby there kept everyone entertained as well!

Birthday picnic

Birthday picnic

Picnic in the park

Picnic in the park

James and Ash

James and Ash

On the days themselves, we went out to one of our favourite restaurants for dinner for my birthday, followed by ice cream at our favourite gelateria (both have coincidentally just opened up shop a short walk from us near Bondi – dangerous for the wallet and the hips!)

On James’ birthday I surprised him with some cake at the beach after work but these days it’s about as exciting as it gets!

The really exciting news is that Apple have approved the app and as soon as we give the green light, it will be available for sale in the App store… I have yet to break open the bubbles because the website and back-end functionality all needs to be smooth and fully operational before we do this and there are a few adjustments that need making. To add to the drama, a few weeks a go we learnt about the Inside Bitcoin Conference, taking place in Las Vegas and decided the timing was perfect to coincide with the app being in the store and for us to start promoting. So, we are now heading to Vegas for a few days before returning to LA and jetting off to London as originally planned.

Work aside, and it has been busy for both of us, it had almost escaped our attention that it is in fact nearly Christmas. It struck me as I walked into the Westfield mall the other week and heard ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’ cheerily jingle out against the other sound of the slip-slap of flip flops walking along the ground. The wreaths, however beautiful, jarr against the stark white, sunlit walls as does the juxtaposition of the Polar Bear, pointing his way toward Santa’s grotto, while all around his frosty podium the shop windows display summery brights and neon prints. I never thought I would say we are looking forward to the cold and dark but at this time of year, it just seems right!

Having said that, once night falls and the lights come on, Sydney still puts on  a good effort and we went to see the Martin Place Christmas tree in all its glory when we met up with a couple of friends for a drink last week – as you can tell from the picture, the tree was perhaps not that interesting!

 

Martin Place Christmas Tree

Martin Place Christmas Tree

The traditional arcades, such as The Strand arcade also look lovely at Christmas and if it wasn’t for the 27-degree sunshine, you might almost believe there was a quaint English town outside.
Strand Arcade

Strand Arcade

 

As I mentioned, we have been trying to fit in seeing people before we fly off, and so last weekend we drove up to see James’ dad’s cousin out in Windsor. Ibby moved a year a go and has done a huge amount of work to the house and garden, which, looks out across the flood plains of the Hawkesbury River. We also managed to catch up with her daughter, Liona who popped in for tea as well. We were particularly impressed by Ibby’s sunflowers!

The 10ft sunflower

The 10ft sunflower

Liona, Ibby and James

Liona, Ibby and James

 

I expect this will be the last post before we land arrive in England and this has been a bit of a rushed summary of everything that has happened over the past month. One thing I should mention, as you have probably noticed, James is sporting a little more facial hair than normal, which was his ‘Movember’ effort, seeing as they can’t have moustaches in the Navy. He reckons he is keeping it. I gave him a really nice shaving set for his birthday…

 

Finishing Lines

8 Nov Credit: BitScan Pty Ltd

There are two kinds of lines where meeting one automatically means meeting the other, but the reverse is not trrue. I’m talking deadlines and finishing lines. Meet your deadline and you’ve crossed the finishing line, pass the finishing line but the deadline may well have past long a go. With most projects, deadlines seem to act as a vague guideline because invariably they keep getting pushed back. Construction projects and house building seem to be a prime example. How often do Kevin McCloud or Peter Maddison revisit a build to see months have slipped by and they are still awaiting planning permission for a crucial feature wall? Well, it seems building an app is no different.

The past few months have involved dozens of meetings, where we have asked the question: How long now, two weeks? Do you think we’ll be ready by September.. Make that October? Mid October? Oh…

 

There is never one person or company to blame; as with all things technical, issues arise, things breakdown, pieces of code don’t work, updates are always available; as with all things human, people fall sick, people do make mistakes and people underestimate how long a ‘relatively small job’ will take.

However, the months, weeks, days and hours of talking, researching, planning, designing and head-scratching is coming to a close and we can now talk about the launch of our new app in matters of days. It is exciting. It’s exciting because we are, currently, first to market with anything of this kind, and because we are actually pretty pleased with the result.

Without attempting the bitcoin explainer again (see previous posts), the app has been designed as an interface for all and any users of bitcoin. It is packed full of features and we hope offers a sleek, user-friendly and fully functional application whether you want to trade, invest, analyse, inform, sell, promote or spend. It is, as we like to say: The World of Bitcoin in the Palm of Your Hand. For details about what it does and all its features, if you are interested, you can read more here. What might encourage you is that bitcoin is growing in value steadily again. Over the past few weeks it has grown in a fairly sustained, measured way and the price is now at an all-time high of around $300 a bitcoin. It has proven resilient to the Silk Road bust and resistant to attempts by the FBI to crack its code seeing as even they cannot access the almost 489,000 bitcoins it seized as a result, safely stashed in an encrypted wallet. With China now entering the picture, it is unlikely that bitcoin is going to disappear for a while. It seems a prime time to be launching the app. The finishing line is in sight.

Credit: BitScan Pty Ltd

The new BitScan app

I happened to cross another finishing line a couple of week’s ago. That of the Sydney’s Rebel Run half marathon at the Olympic Park. It was not an easy run and for whatever reason that day, I really struggled. I tend to be able to pace myself quite well and have enough in reserve for a bit of a spurt at the end, but not this time. Training had not been easy due to the searing temperatures we had been having. 30-degree plus days in October are not what I’m used to and the atmosphere for a few weeks has been hazy at the best of times with the smoke from the bushfires blowing over. Most mornings I felt I could have been training for the Sahara desert run! I had done a few long runs in preparation and had managed a sub 1hour 50minutes in training.

The weekend in question, our friend Will came to visit from Melbourne, which was brilliant and great to catch up with him. When the sun’s out and there are beers to be had (it was the Sydney Craft Beer Festival that week) Will and James were keen to head out. I joined them for a hog roast on the Saturday afternoon, although no alcohol, plenty of fluids, and plenty of pasta that night was order of the day for me!

As with all race mornings, I felt a little nervous with the anticipation of the 21.1 km ahead of me. A little tired as well, but only to be expected when you have to get up at 5am to make the 6.30am gun. I set off well, but possibly a little fast. After 11 km, the distance markers disappeared because we were running along track by the river and through parkland. I do not own a Garmin watch, and wasn’t running with my Nike Plus, so was having to estimate how far I had gone, but by what must have been about 16 km, I was starting to flag. The day was already warming up and a grey, smoky haze suddenly wafted over, which is never helpful when you’re relying on oxygen! Apart from once when training too late in the day and it was nearing 26 degrees, I have never had that urge come over me to stop like I did then. Of course, I couldn’t. If I stopped or walked, I knew I’d never get going again. I felt as if I was staggering along, forcing one foot in front of the other, not feeling breathless, just lethargic. My energy was completely sapped. Despite my little jelly bean stash for a glucose hit as I went round, my blood sugar must have taken a serious dip because at one point double vision set in. Dreams of making it anywhere in near 1 hour 45 vanished, I knew 1 hour 50 was going to be highly unlikely and I had to hope I could still finish in under 2 hours. I just kept telling myself to keep going. My muscles, which never usually suffer from lactic acid build up, were suddenly screaming, and my head was screaming at me in a different way. I have never had such a mental, let a lone physical, struggle during a run.

When the stewards in the sidelines yelled, “3km to go” I think I deflated even more. In the grand scheme of things, it was a short distance and this was usually when I would have started to increase the pace slightly if I had anything left. I didn’t. In fact, one man, running by, must have seen me wilting and said, “We’re nearly there, come on.” I had no intention of stopping but I think the feeling of disappointment that my goal times were a distant memory was an extra burden I was dragging along!

The last stretch along to the Olympic stadium felt never ending but even in the state I was in, there was something about running through the tunnel and into the stadium that meant the struggle was forgotten for a brief few seconds. Any fantasy of sprinting over the finish line with my hands in the air remained just that. As soon as the line was crossed I staggered to one side, collapsed in a corner and did not stand up again for a good five minutes.

Finishing the Rebel Run half marathon

Finishing the Rebel Run half marathon

Amazingly by the time I was home half an hour later, I felt fine. No aches, no pains, just ready for a nap! There was no stiffness over the following days either but the thought of running anything over 10km didn’t appeal so much!

Oh, and you’re probably wondering how I did… Well I crossed the finish line in 1 hour 52 minutes, which given everything, absolutely amazed me. Not my finest hour (or two) but it’s one finishing line I don’t have to worry about again.

That bitcoin thing…

5 Aug

So a few weeks a go I wrote a post introducing bitcoin and gave a fairly rudimentary explanation of what it is and where it comes from. In fact, a couple of things I mentioned were not completely accurate because, I was, and still am, learning about the currency, but I have a pretty good grasp of it now, even if I am not totally au fait with all the technological jargon.

I mention it again as things are moving along and hopefully, by next month, we shall have our app (initially for the iPhone but with an Android version following soon after.)

As a recap, bitcoin is the decentralised, virtual currency, which is transacted over the internet. It has no central authority controlling it so is transferred person to person without any middlemen charging fees or taking a percentage cut of every transaction. It also means it can be used anywhere in the world with no currency exchange costs. It is managed by a peer-to-peer, global computing network. These computers use specially-designed hardware called miners, to crunch away at complex algorithms. Once they have decoded a block of data, bitcoins are issued and this is the way bitcoins are released into circulation. They are held in digital wallets on the internet. There is a predetermined release rate of bitcoins and the bitcoin algorithm can increase in difficulty so even if more and more people start mining for the currency, the market won’t be flooded with bitcoins.  By 2040, all the bitcoins will have been mined.

The fact an increasing number of people are becoming interested in bitcoin is because for small businesses in particular, it offers a lot of benefits. The lower fees and ability to do business internationally without worrying about currency exchange rates are just a couple of advantages. Due to the finite number of bitcoins that can ever exist, it is also inflation-proof and so people who own bitcoins know it cannot be devalued. Then there is the ease of using it, for anyone with access to the internet or a smart phone can transfer bitcoins from one bitcoin address to another quickly and securely.

The currency was created by an unknown, enigmatic individual or group of people, known as Satoshi Nakamoto in 2009. Many of the bitcoin evangelists describe themselves as financial libertarians, that’s not to say they are all anti-state or anti-government, but they do want control over their own money and an alternative to their fiat savings, which are being continually debased and devalued over time.

The owner and founder of BitScan asked me to get involved a few weeks a go and in that time, as well as helping out with some of the elements to the app, future web content and getting my head around bitcoin, I have been writing features for the BitScan features blog. It has been an interesting endeavour, in particular due to some of the people I have met and interviewed. These vary from a Cumbrian taxi driver to a bitcoin miner to various entrepreneurs within the bitcoin world. It is a world that might be relatively small but it is growing. Right now it feels as if those in the know are on the brink of something, which could be potentially huge. Similarly to the Internet all those year’s a go when the nay-sayers all said it would never take off, bitcoin is not only a currency, but a whole concept, which can take some time to understand and accept.

It will probably never exist alone and maybe never become the primary, global currency, but as  growing numbers want a bite of the bitcoin apple, it could well become a much more mainstream and viable option to other fiat currencies. For a start, one economist has declared it should be the national currency of Iceland.

One article on this is here:  http://www.coindesk.com/why-iceland-should-use-bitcoin-as-its-national-currency-btclondon/

A video showing some of his talk is here: http://bitcoinviews.com/bitcoin-london-2013-sveinn-valfells-should-iceland-adopt-bitcoin-as-its-national-currency/

Now on to us!

© Copyright BitScan

© Copyright BitScan

Our own website can be found by clicking here – take a look and see what you think. At the moment, it is all very new and we are developing a proper, integrated blog and website, which will come in due course. Rob’s analysis of bitcoin’s performance on the markets is proving a big hit and my Features blog can be found via the main home page or here.

Finally, I pitched one of my features to Coin Desk, one of the main bitcoin news sites, and it was their top story when it was published on Friday and still in their Most Popular and Must Read lists. It also got a big mention in their weekly roundup. It is a great story about the youngest bitcoin entrepreneurs, bees, honey and bitcoin! You can find a link to that story on our features blog here: http://bitscanfeatures.blogspot.com.au/2013/07/lifes-sweet-with-bitcoin.html

 

So there you go,  take a look and if you are particularly interested in how bitcoins are released (or mined) and how that all works, I wrote a feature on it recently, which hopefully cuts through too much technical jargon! Take a read: http://bitscanfeatures.blogspot.com.au/2013/07/going-down-mine.html

 

 

Bit by Bit

5 Jul
The bitcoin logo

The bitcoin logo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So I’m going to introduce you to something. I am reckoning that half the people reading this (just judging by my family here!) will not have heard of this and of those that have a few may not know exactly what it is or how it works. I’m talking about Bitcoin.

It’s a bit new, a bit radical and a bit crazy in a crypto-digital-techno kind of way.

So now you’re asking, what is Bitcoin? Well, Bitcoin is a currency, a cryptocurrecny to be precise, which means it exists purely in an encrypted, digital form. In that way, Bitcoin can be a hard concept to get your head around because you cannot physically handle it but these days so many of our transactions are done electronically and by card, we never really see our money anyway. Bitcoin is just as functional as regular fiat currency (such as dollars, pounds, euros etc.) Yep, it can be exchanged, traded, bought and spent just like those other currencies. In fact hundreds, no, thousands of outlets and businesses now accept Bitcoin for purchases. You can buy your coffee, get your haircut, do your weekly grocery shop and fill up your car using Bitcoin. Even wordpress accepts it!

So how do you get it and where does it come from? Here’s where you have to get your head around ‘the science bit’. Bitcoins are generated by people known as ‘miners’, the term used for the techno-wizards who periodically release Bitcoins into the system. It is done through running sophisticated software to solve a series of complex algorithms, and the mathematical process is known as ‘mining Bitcoin’.

This network of people use their computing power to keep a record of every Bitcoin transaction. It is known as the Block Chain… (Stay with me.) In essence this is just an ever-growing electronic ledger of every Bitcoin transaction ever made. Each time a Bitcoin is spent or exchanged, a new ‘block’ is added to the chain. This ensures Bitcoins are transferred to and from the right people and cannot be duplicated or spent twice. If you are interested take a look at blockchain.info and if you are so inclined, sit and watch it for a few minutes to see transactions happening and the blockchain growing before your eyes.

The reward these people get for monitoring this block chain and using their computers and power is a few Bitcoins and so every ten minutes or so, extra Bitcoins are mined into existence.

Are you following so far? I shall go on.

Really, the above is just the technical detail behind how Bitcoins come into existence and ensure the transactions are secure. The big difference with Bitcoin is that it is decentralized – no big banks or governments control it. This is why it is known as a peer-to-peer currency because it is collectively managed by the aforementioned network of miners. Understandably this sends some people running scared, although let’s face it, governments don’t have a great recent track record when it comes to managing economies; the global financial crisis, multi-billion dollar bailouts of entire countries, need I go on…

Apart from anything, the value of a regular currency depends on governments and how much they keep pumping into the system. (Quantitative Easing being a common monetary policy in recent years.) In effect they could just keep on printing the stuff and then, without wanting to insult anybody’s intellect here or embark on a high school economics lesson, the value of that currency decreases and you get inflation, where to buy anything, you need a lot of that currency, as its value is so low.

One of the ideas behind Bitcoin is that it eliminates this inflation risk. With Bitcoin the supply is finite. There will only ever be 21 million Bitcoins in existence and by 2040, they reckon all of those Bitcoins will be in circulation. Furthermore, one Bitcoin can be subdivided down to eight decimal places so there could be over 100 million smaller units.

Everyone who owns Bitcoins keeps them in what is known as a ‘wallet’, which is accessed by computer and each person has their own personal key with which to access it, which acts as their signature. As long as no one else knows the key, your money is safe. Transactions can be made simply by providing the wallet’s public key, a series of digits, in some ways similar to a bank account. The difference is that it is anonymous and of course, as it is not held by a third party, no account or hefty transaction fees.

The downsides? Well, of course, there are a few right now as you can imagine. Bitcoin is a currency but with no central authority setting its value and with its limited supply, is traded like a commodity. It is currently very volatile with its value soaring up last April to a spectacular high only to come crashing down again. It is relatively new (launched in 2009) and with all things new, there are risks involved. There has been plenty of criticism but also plenty of support – I won’t link to every article ever written about it here but there are lots as you will find with just a google search.

Ok, so now you’re wondering why I bothered to tell you all this (and to be honest, there is a lot of detail I have missed out and I am sure an expert could pick apart my explanation) well it is because it has something to do with a new business I have got involved with. I am just planting the seed and will tell all in the near future. But things are moving along and progress is happening bit by bit….

Taking Command

30 Jun

I thought I’d give Louise a break from the blogging and write a post myself.  It has been quite a while since I wrote anything here and, to be honest, Louise is such a good writer that I feel that anything I write will pale into insignificance against the hundred or so other entries to this site.

Life has been hectic for us over the last few months; we have had to move home and I have been very busy with work, which has taken me to HMAS Cerberus in Victoria for the past 3 weeks and then I am off to San Diego in a week for just under a month.  We have a week’s leave booked for the end of August and we are both looking forward to a break.

My work has been interesting; I accompanied 27 student warfare officers down to West Head Gunnery Range where they were put through their paces in the art of Naval gunnery.  The range is located on a cliff top near the picturesque township of Flinders and provides an excellent training opportunity as we are allowed to fire live rounds out to sea.  Not sure I would wish to live close by as it makes quite a racket!

Our great friends Will and Isa, along with their two children, live nearby to HMAS Cerberus in Mt Martha and it was wonderful to catch up with them whilst I was down there.  Will is fast becoming a craft beer aficionado and is actually getting quite a good reputation as an online blogger on this increasingly popular interest in good beer. Check him out here: http://vonschlapper.wordpress.com/author/vonschlapper/

Yesterday I received some exciting news.  The RAN have selected me to command one of their patrol boats based in Cairns.  Command of a warship is a goal that I have been dreaming of achieving since I was a junior officer and it is a wonderful feeling to have been nominated.  I do not take up the position for another year, so there will be 6 more months of my role in training warfare officers here in Sydney before I embark on a 5 month course which will tell me of the many ways in which I must try to avoid getting into trouble.  The prospect of command is both exciting and a little intimidating as I will be responsible for everything that goes on in that Ship, including the welfare and safety of my crew – a daunting task but one that I feel honoured to tackle.

The job of the patrol boats is to protect the maritime approaches to Australia.  In this current climate of mass people migration from parts of the world  where people are desperate to escape tyranny and conflict for a better life this task will be a significant challenge both physically and morally.  The timing could not be more apt with the newly re-instated Prime Minister of Australia making incendiary comments with regard to Indonesia and immigration.  Who knows what the situation will be like in 12 months time, but one thing is for sure there will still be people taking great risks to get to these shores.

In many ways I have been preparing for command since the day I joined the RN in 1997, in the early years I didn’t realise this and there were times when if I am honest I wasn’t even sure that I actually wanted it.  An institution such as the Navy has ways to school its officers in preparation for this important job that have been honed through many years of war and peace.  Other organisations have great ways of preparing their people for leadership positions and an entire industry has sprung up touting the answer to leadership excellence, but I believe in the tried and tested methods of the Armed forces in which I am honoured to serve.

I will not actually command my own Ship, instead I will be the Commanding Officer of one of 6 crews based in Cairns where we will man four Armidale Class Patrol Boats (ACPBs), each crew rotates through the different ships.

English: The Australian patrol boat HMAS Child...

The Australian patrol boat HMAS Childers (and others) berthed at HMAS Cairns in Cairns, Queensland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: HMAS Broome (ACPB 90) in Darwin Harbour

HMAS Broome (ACPB 90) in Darwin Harbour (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our plan as it stands is for Louise to stay in Sydney where we have friends and a support network, I will then either fly down or Louise will come up when I am not on patrol.  Hopefully this arrangement will work and it means we keep ourselves in the new unit in Sydney.  Having just moved, the prospect of moving again in 12 months is not an appealing one!

Onwards and Upwards

24 Jun

Apologies for the lack of update recently but moving house here (apart from stressful and time-consuming) means no internet connection for weeks! I’ve no idea why it takes a month to switch an account from one address to another but the library and wifi cafes will be getting a lot of business from me over the coming days.

So, apart from lack of connectivity, it is onwards and upwards and when I say upwards, I mean it literally: seven floors to be precise. From ground floor to top floor and with that move, some amazing views to boot. Sadly, the past few days’ weather in Sydney has meant I haven’t been able to take full advantage of the panoramic harbour and city vistas, which have been masked by a low cloud and teaming rain but being able to see the skyline lit up at night still blows me away.

Sunset view of SYdney skyline

The weekend before the move we spent packing up, chucking out and making trips to and from the new unit with some of the smaller and breakable items.

Moving mayhem

Luckily, James was able to take a couple of days’ leave to help with the move, which took a lot of stress off my shoulders but having said that, the three guys who moved us in worked so fast and efficiently and took such good care of our furniture and belongings, it probably would not have been as bad as we thought. When one of the men picked up a large, solid, wood chest of drawers with one arm, we knew we were in good hands. Turned out they had us out, in and unpacked in less than five hours and after a 6am start, we were having lunch in the sunshine in one of our new local cafes by 1pm.

Then the hard work began: the box emptying, the tidying and sorting, the rearranging and organizing and learning where things went and how our new home worked. That’s when James had to fly off back to Melbourne!

The next forty-eight hours I spent thirteen-hour days cleaning and putting everything in its place and traipsing the homeware stores to buy the bits we needed. One of the items, one of my favourite pieces, was my new desk. It fits into our new study area and with a view across to the city, I’m not sure I’ll be getting too much work done! I love it and with our new sofa, we’re beginning to find we’re slowly getting pieces that resemble our style and making our new place feel like our home.

Study area

As pleased as I am with the desk, buying it was a different matter. When I got to the loading bay, the first thing the man said to me was, “Do you have a big car?” Followed by, “Is there anyone who can help you with this at the other end?”

Several minutes of heaving this enormous box out of the car and shuffling it with my shoulder against it into the lift, I managed to get the box into the unit. Thinking the worst was over, I cut open the box, looked at the instructions and for the first time ever on an assembly manual, saw the words in big bold font: Two People Are Required For This. Oh well, a two-person job became a one-person struggle but eventually, a rather heavy and cumbersome desk was assembled!

In fact, buying furniture for a new place, especially an apartment that is not ground floor, can prove tricky when there are no large patio doors for access and the only way in is through a rather narrow security door. Then there are the limitations of the lift dimensions to consider (although thank God for the lift!), so carrying a tape measure in my bag has become common practise for the past week as has learning special sofa manoeuvres that seem to defy the laws of maths.

Now it is finally all sorted, this weekend has been about seeing friends, catching up on sleep and having something more than a bowl of soup to eat each day! Onwards and upwards…

Sydney harbour views

Editorial Guidelines

25 May Writing

They are those codes of practise, which most news organisations and journalists strive to uphold; the policies, which are meant to maintain integrity, trustworthiness and ethical behaviour. They are the guidelines I have had to read, refer to and have a pretty good understanding of for the majority of my career as a journalist, whether from a small, local radio station to a national newsroom. Editorial codes are the standards for accuracy, fairness, lawfulness, impartiality, and the procedures to follow if these standards are not met.  They offer journalists guidance for telling stories and portraying characters while ensuring coverage is balanced, diverse and innovative without compromising integrity or quality. Suddenly I am struck at how similar they are to the new ‘editorial guidelines’ I face.

Anyone writing a manuscript knows the importance of having a diversity of characters, striking a good balance of action, narrative and dialogue, maintaining quality over quantity and all without compromising on creativity. This is easily said but hard to master. A short session with an editor has helped me see the flaws and pitfalls to my recent manuscript but has also given me an encouraging push to pursue the novel, the premise of which she really liked. Right now I am concentrating on defining my characters and giving them more depth; pulling at the threads and seeing their souls laid bare, in essence, getting to know them all better and rediscovering their little idiosyncrasies. I realise I have fallen victim to the ‘telling not showing’ trap a few times and am hoping that by correcting this, the characters will more explode on to the page rather than merely shuffle in self-consciously!

I was given a further burst of inspiration and motivation at the Sydney Writers Festival this week. I have attended talks on female fiction, writing narrative, creating tension and suspense, characterisation and even promoting your efforts through blogging and social media. I have heard from best-selling authors, industry experts and publishing gurus and what is more, the whole event was free! There were workshops and ticketed events you could pay for but this was a festival accessible to all and it was possible to fill each day soaking up wisdom and advice from those in the know for no more than the cost of the journey to get there. On that note, the festival was held in the industrial, warehouse-style setting of the Sydney Dance Company‘s studios, overlooking Sydney Harbour at Walsh B ay.

‘The Loft’ where a few of the sessions were held was a cavernous space with stable-doors set high up the wall and thick-set wooden posts soaring up to the girders overhead. Chairs and iron-framed bookshelves were placed on beaten floorboards in front of the stage and it was set for the talk to follow: from cosy armchairs and table lamps to a more corporate look. Each session I went to was packed and even Thursday’s freezing weather and lashing rain didn’t deter thousands turning up and queuing for talks. There was a diverse mix of ages, backgrounds and professions. I talked to university students studying English and media through to retirees who were battling through their first novels. Aspiring writers and journalists mingled with stay-at-home mums and professionals and there really was something for everyone: from historians to tech-wizards and above all, anyone who reads or writes.

A fantastic talk by Scarlett Thomas persuaded me to buy her book: Monkeys with Typewriters, a practical and inspirational guide to all aspects of writing… That will be my reading material for the next few days and as for my writing – well that is a work in progress with some sound guidelines to keep me on the right track 🙂

The latest project

10 May

I have been quite busy this past week.

I have been thinking on this idea recently, stemming from my enjoyment of designing photobooks and knowing how many people have hundreds of photos stored on their computers, never doing anything with them… Here’s where I can now step in!

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I came up with a small business idea, spoke to a few people about it, took and edited photographs, made slideshows, set up the website, designed and created a logo, registered the business and domain names, created a facebook presence and now Louise Edmondson Design is a fully registered Australian business and ready to go!

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Please take a look at my new website: LouiseEdmondsonDesign.com.au and you can find the facebook page as Louise Edmondson Design.

Spread the word, especially if you know people who might be interested 🙂

 

All support (and feedback) will be gratefully received! And if anyone reading this has any ‘small business’ or promoting tips – please comment!

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© Louise Edmondson 2013

© Louise Edmondson 2013

Graduation Day

28 Mar

Talk about ‘transferable skills’ and a list of buzz words comes to mind, which have been the staple lexicon of many a modern-day resumé. Move to Australia and, as in most cases when transferring a career to another country, no matter how similar, those ‘transferable skills’ suddenly don’t seem to transfer so well (at least, not until it suits them.) It is true the world over I expect and certainly is what James has been experiencing for the past few months (and therefore by default, me too.)

Over a year ago, James was on a ship, mentoring students on their Navy PWO (Principal Warfare Officer) course. He was helping out as a qualified PWO himself. A few months down the line, it transpired there were some advanced elements of the Australian PWO course, which James had to pass to fulfil their criteria. Attempts to get his Royal Navy qualifications recognised (RPL) were unsuccessful, so it was back to being a student for a while.

Then came the twist: Can you also teach part of the course you’re meant to be a student on, thanks. (Those previous qualifications can’t have been completely useless then…)

So while James was ‘on course’ he was also writing and preparing a large part of the final exam and then conveniently got his RPL so he could become a staff member. Weeks of stress, late nights, early starts, working weekends, meetings, briefings and not to mention spreadsheets and flowcharts are now over. One day, when James has recovered, he may feel able to tell you about it 😉

Wednesday was ‘graduation day’ and James and his fellow students received their certificates and awards from his fellow staff members. Confusing? A little. Probably more so for James who has been wearing both hats for the past few months. At least he didn’t have to stand up, shake his own hand, present himself a certificate and talk to himself. In fact it was a very proud moment watching him graduate, with a handshake from the Fleet Commander, Sydney harbour as the backdrop and a special mention in the student rep’s speech for, ‘sleeping, dreaming and breathing’ the part of the course he instructed. The hard work all paid off with plenty of praise from his colleagues and students and even a special, personal thank you from a Commodore.

With the PWO course seen as a pre-requisite for command and one of the highest standards for a Naval Officer to attain, the graduation ceremony reflected the significance, with guest of honour, Her Excellency, the Governor of New South Wales, Marie Bashir. There was tea, there was cake, there was the national anthem, there were speeches and certificates and there was glorious sunshine to top it off.

James graduates PWO49

Marie Bashir with Officers

James has flitted from instructor, to student to staff member over the past year but whatever hat he has worn, he has clearly worn it well and made good use of those not-so-transferable skills.

22 Mar

This blog struck a chord. I relate to a lot of it, although I never worked for a newspaper, I think the same can be said of many news organisations these days, sadly. Paragraphs 9-11 are the pertinent ones for me and one reason why I ended up leaving my job in the newsroom a few years a go. Newspapers, radio stations, TV, ‘digital content providers’, many seem to fall victim to the lure of ‘more hits, more clicks’ rather than investing in a real story.

Although, when perusing job sites, the ones that always appeal are journalism/media related, I know the reality of many of these roles. ‘Fast-paced, deadline-driven, never a nine-til-five environment’ can be translated as ‘expect to work around the clock with no extra pay in a sausage factory, churning out regurgitated press-releases and wire copy for an audience we believe has no interest in news other than what Britney Spears ate for breakfast.’

Someone who commented on this blog, described it like dating an abusive boyfriend. I think they have a point:  You love it, you keep going back for more, hoping it will love you back, but eventually, it saps the life out of you.

Sticky Valentines

Here I am interviewing a Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue official.

I get asked two questions several times a week, and I brush off both with a verbal swat.

One — because I’m in my late 20s, I suppose – is when are you getting married? And the other, because it seems like small talk, is why did you leave the newspaper?

I could answer both with a single word: Money.

But I usually deflect the marriage subject, wrongly justifying it as an acceptable passing question, with a practical reason: I’m not eager to have children. And I answer the news question with something to which my audience can nod along: “It didn’t seem like a sustainable career path.”

But that’s a cold and detached answer. I don’t feel cold and detached about news, and I only give that response under the assumption that people don’t want to hang around for the full story – ironically, the same reason newspapers aren’t really working anymore.

So…

View original post 1,288 more words

18

28 Feb

Well, it’s been a while since we (I) last blogged! I guess that’s not for lack of things happening, but more that the things that have been happening have been very ordinary, some might say, dull! I think it’s also just symptomatic of the fact we have adjusted, settled and are getting on with the day to day. The weekly shop is not that blog-worthy (even if you have an experience as I did the other week involving traffic, closed down car parks, forgetting wallets, a second run to the shop and then said shop running out of what you need); the housework is really not that exciting (the laundry basket is constantly full of uniform, the patio is constantly full of leaves and the sink is constantly  just full) and work is as it is for most people: frustrating and slow at times, stressful and demanding and always needing to be done!

On that note, can you tell we have been here 18 months? Yes, 18 months! It is the second longest period of time either of us have ever lived in one house in our adult lives. 18 months, 180 degree flip to the other side of the world. Here we are. So here are 18 photos to celebrate the milestone and the journey so far 🙂

James@Sydney Harbour

Coffee in Frankston

Roos on the quarterdeck

Harbour Highlights

Louise & James - 1920s style

Festive friends

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Three Sistas!

James

Sunrise

Newcastle arrives

Cute Koala

Sculptures By The Sea: View

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Permanently changeable

23 Jan

Permanence. It means ongoing, ever-lasting, unchanging for an indefinite length of time, forever… It amounts to stability and certainty. Why am I mentioning this? Well, just the other week, it came to my attention that I am now entitled to apply for my permanent residency visa (where did that two years go since first lodging my visa application?!) Also cue lots of thoughts back to the weeks of collating an encyclopaedia’s worth of information documenting the legitimacy of our relationship. So now, I am at that stage again – requesting a police check from the Australian Federal Police, asking friends to make declarations as to the ongoing nature of our relationship and writing our own personal statements about how we financially and emotionally support each other. Fun times ahead. It also struck me then how at the moment, I am not permanent: not in Australia, no longer in the UK and perhaps not even in Sydney (although that all very much depends on James and his work and the next move, which I am sure will be mentioned further down the line.)

It doesn’t really matter. I mean not being ‘permanent’ does not really change anything for me at the moment but it did get me thinking how it would be nice to have something certain and unchanging for a while. We have each other and that of course, will always be the constant, but having no permanent job, not even a ‘permanent residence’ can make the idea of permanence (previously something to be looked down on with derision as boring and unadventurous) suddenly quite appealing.

Even at the start of the year, as I was looking to make myself a permanent resident here, I was further disentangling myself from the UK Inland Revenue, filing my final tax return (which incidentally took five times longer than usual for a poultry four-month period because I had to get my head around what defined ‘non-resident’, ‘ordinarily resident’ ‘non-domicile’ and not to mention split tax-years and remittance claims… I still don’t know so don’t ask.)

So the start of 2013 has been busy: not just with flitting between UK and Australian admin but about looking at finding a route to publication for my novel, looking at a permanent job and looking at longer-term plans and investments for that stability and certainty in our future. It is easier said than done and in itself, quite time-consuming but hopefully will lead to a sense of permanence at some point!

Not that being married to a Naval officer will ever really allow for that and this then begs the question: is there any point applying for the ‘permanent job’ if you’re not hanging around? (And yes, I have had the internal conversation about not living life on ‘what-ifs’.) But it can be hard to really have that focus and motivation to apply for a dream job if you’re going to uproot in the near future. (I’m imagining the interview: Q. ‘And where do you see yourself in five years time?’ A. ‘Um… Maybe not even in this city, or country or…’ Probably not the ‘progressing nicely through the company, taking advantage of training opportunities and blah blah’ answer they were expecting.)

So, a busy few weeks but hopefully constructive and you know, they say a change is as good as the rest and right now, things are well, permanently changing!

Fireworks and reflections

2 Jan

We played a few Christmas songs, I made some mice pies, we decorated our tree, put up the cards and wrapped our presents and so despite the sun blazing through the windows, Christmas Eve was fairly festive. When we woke up on Christmas Day, the sky was grey and the rain started an hour later. It did not stop and so for our second Christmas in Australia we felt quite ‘at home’ in the decidedly British weather, had a roast turkey dinner, watched Christmas films and eventually went for a walk in the rain!

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It was our first Christmas in our own home in Sydney and our first (and possibly only) Christmas spent with just each other. We were joined by families via Skype later in the evening but all in all it was a very quiet day. I suppose we did miss some drunken relation falling asleep during the Queen’s speech or the dog eating all the mince pies and a family argument over a game of charades but I suppose there were no risks of typical family tensions. In fact  just to make sure I gave James a book and he gave me a jigsaw so conversation was pretty minimal!

New Year’s Eve was an entirely different affair. The sun was out, it was hot, James’ dad and Lindy had arrived, a feast had been prepared and a group of our friends and their families had assembled at our house for the pre-fireworks barbecue. As usual, there were too many sausages, plenty of beer and as the sun went down we enjoyed a bit of a party on our patio. Then it was an organised procession to the bus and up to HMAS Watson for a view from the wardroom for Sydney’s famous NYE fireworks display. The champagne was flowing and the display did not disappoint.

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It is strange to think we have now had our second Christmas and another New Year in Australia. Last year we were still growing accustomed to life ‘down under’ having only been in the country four months. This year we’re almost ‘old hands’ and have a brilliant bunch of friends to show for it. As usual, New Year is a time when many people look back and reflect on the past twelve months. For us, 2012 was the year of settling and exploring! After a hectic 2011, a year of change and upheaval, this past year has been about establishing a home, a network of friends and some kind of routine. I started the year freelancing and ended the year having written a novel. James started the year on a ship and spending months away at sea and ended it in a shore-based job just a few kilometres from home. Our friends have actually changed very little but we have met some new ones and grown closer to our other ‘less new’ ones!

In 2012 we had visits from my parents, my friend, my sister and currently, James’ dad and step mum. We have had holidays in Margaret River, Jervis Bay and Tasmania. This year we may do a little less travelling but James has several trips away with the Navy and we look forward to a visit back to the UK towards the end of the year. It will inevitably be a busy one, particularly with James’ job this year and hopefully I’ll find something new and try to persevere with getting my novel published. We shall see…

Switching to Manual

15 Oct

“If you understand light, you can be a great photographer.”

With these words, our group stopped looking at our array of DSLR Panasonics, Nikons and Canons between us and raised our eyes to the sky, perhaps hoping a beam of sunlight would suddenly enlighten us as to the mysteries of what makes that acceptable shot, a remarkable one.

Nine of us stood, bathed in the thing we were meant to understand, at Sydney’s Circular Quay, all hoping that in one day we could learn a few tricks of the trade that would transform our photographs into something, well a little less mediocre.

I was looking at my camera, at the switches and buttons I have simply ignored but to turn to ‘Automatic’ and scrolled through the digital touch-screen menu of variables, which briefly made me want to go back to the days of buying a point-and-shoot disposable at the local chemist. Automatic meant the camera was in control and took an average of all those variables. Manual means I have total control. This pleases me. I was not to be defeated. How hard could it be?

“So on a day like this, we’ll stick to 100 ISO, one shot focus, use the lowest possible f stop and we’ll experiment with the shutter speed before moving on to look at exposure compensation.”

Ah.

I vaguely remember the days of buying 35mm films, and later APS films, for my annual holiday snaps and getting told to buy the lower ISO because we were going on holiday (so it was ‘bound to be sunny.’) Now I understand and what’s more I can change it at the touch of a button.

Our professional photographer guided us all through the technical functions of our cameras and suddenly all the letters, numbers and flashing crosses in the viewfinder started to make sense.

Despite our teaching ground being Sydney harbour and its fantastic views, we were not there to take pretty pictures, but to learn how to take very ordinary pictures, well. Suddenly what previously was an easy case of framing a shot and clicking, became a minor maths test before I could even press the shutter button. Numbers for depth of field, shutter speed and light metering whirled around my head but finally I was starting to see the difference between taking a photo in automatic mode versus manual.

We practised taking moving cars on the highway, not exactly scenic, but difficult not to get the blur – or to blur the background, not the car.

We tried out different techniques as we walked around – my favourite being the silhouette. Here are a few samples from the day:

On Sunday James and I walked to Bondi so he did not escape either!

I think my pictures may actually take a turn for the worse while I play around at being Annie Liebovitz and try to get used to the different settings but hopefully over time, it will become second nature and I can be a little more ambitious. I am going to try and keep the camera in manual and not be tempted to slip the dial back to automatic. From now on, I, not the little box around my neck will be in control, and although the ‘average’ pictures may have turned out all right so far, there are no prizes for average.

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