2011 In Review

Posted by Ross Poulton on Wed 21 December 2011 #travel #work #personal

I'm not one to blog about personal topics, but I have to make an exception as 2011 has been a heck of a year on a number of fronts.

This is a pretty long post, so bookmark it if you're on an iPhone or just skip it entirely if you're not interested in a 20-minute read about some guy who reckons his personal experiences are any different to the next guy.

Learned I was to become a dad; learned to be a dad

A few days into the new year, my wife Lauren and I found out we were going to be first-time parents. There was the requisite excitement, nervousness and more excitement as we got used to the idea we were going to be parents.

By February we had told our best friends and family; others came a month or so later.

Sharing the news of your pregnancy is fun. For many people, including Lauren and I, it was kept a secret until we carefully shared it with initially few but later more people. We have very few true "secrets" these days, so it's nice to be able to play th secrecy game between yourselves for a few weeks.

In September, after very little sleep for a few days I became a dad for the first time. The lack of sleep suddenly didn't matter, the fact that it was a somewhat difficult labour (but not exceptionally so, in the grand scheme of things) didn't matter, and the fact that our lives had now been demarcated into "BC" (before children) and "AD" (after delivery) didn't matter.

As I write this, our little boy is just three months old, but it's hard to imagine life without him. The pain is there but made duller by the sheer joy he brings into our lives. Big gummy grins have become one of the most important things in my life... that's pretty big, for a guy who typically didn't like kids!

To show how my tolerance has changed I have a fun story from last week. We took our boy to a baby massage class, with Lauren's mothers group and everybodies partners. As us dads took over with the massage, there was a room full of screaming babies. All we could do was laugh... 6 months ago a babies cry was annoying, now it was amusing.

Completed my studies

Since 2005 I've been studying part-time at Swinburne University towards a Bachelor of Business (Accounting). I'm not a typical student; I finished my secondary schooling in 2001 and began working full-time in the IT industry immediately. I've been very lucky to have a fantastic career path that has grown out of that early work, however I identified (with some gentle pushing from family) that some formal tertiary qualifications weren't such a bad idea.

Ask any full-time student and they'll tell you study is hard. Ask any part-time student and they'll tell you the study is easy, but bloody hard to fit in around your other commitments.

Full-time students typically have their study as their primary focus. For part-time students like myself, study is a second (or third, or lower) priority after work, being a husband, homeowner, and now father. Competing pressures on your time make part-time study a serious undertaking.

It's now seven years later, and I've completed my degree. This final semester (during which my son was born) was hands-down the most challening I've faced, however I've recently received my results that show I have completed the required 24 units without failing a single one.

The maths nerds might notice that I have taken seven years to study 24 units, at 2 per semester. That's because both last year and this year I took off one semester to travel without having an impact on my grades.

Returned to Nepal

In March 2010, Lauren and I travelled to Nepal to trek in the Everest region. Unfortunately, a few days into the walk Lauren was bitten by a dog. Due to the Rabies endemic in Nepal, the recommendation from a western doctor and our insurance company was to evacuate to Kathmandu for post-exposure injections.

Rabies post-exposure injections are expensive and painful. Travel insurance is a lifeline, and as a result of our dealings I don't hesitate to recommend World Nomads to anybody who asks.

There were two positives to come out of the bite. Firstly, we were evacuated by helicopter. Yes, a helicopter flight through the Himalayas. Unfortunately it was very cloudy, so even though we had walked for a week and flown through the area I still hadn't had but a glimpse of Mt Everest, the worlds' highest mountain at 8,848 metres tall.

So, the second positive: As soon as I was happy that Lauren was safe back in Kathmandu, I consulted Asian Trekking (who had arranged our trek) and booked in a return trip.

Come March 2011: I returned to Nepal for another 3 weeks, this time with Lauren's cousin Rob and one of his climbing buddies. This time there were no dog bites, and I was luckly enough reach Gokyo Ri, one of the most beautiful places in the world.

On the day after our arrival in Gokyo, there was a snowstorm so we couldn't climb the Ri (mountain). Most of the trekkers in Gokyo left town, descending to lower altitudes to try and keep to their tight schedules. Our schedule was relatively relaxed, so we hung around for another day and I'm glad we did: the weather was perfect, there was a layer of snow over all of the surrounding mountains (including Cho Oyu and Everest), and there was hardly anybody around.

Climbing Gokyo Ri is perhaps the most physically challening thing I've ever done. I'm convinced it's no steeper than the street on which I live, but at 5000+ metres of altitude breathing is hard. A severe lack of protein in ones diet certainly doesn't help, either.

Arriving at the top of the Ri was rather emotional. The spectacular 360 degree views of some of the worlds' highest mountains, including Mt Everest (#1 at 8,848 metres), Lhotse (#4, 8,516m), Makalu (#5, 8,485m) and Cho Oyu (#6, 8,188m) are awe inspiring and make the hard work of seven-days of non-stop uphill trekking worthwhile. Although I had no phone reception, I used my iPhone and the Occipital 360 Panorama app to capture a panorama of the views. I reckon you should check it out, then contact Asian Trekking to arrange a trip there yourself.

Hillspotting: If you look West in the image above, find the person in the red jacket next to the cut-in-half person in Black: Mount Everest is up and to the left - the big black rock triangle in the distance with the snow spindrift. Lhotse is just to the right of that. Then, follow the glacier to the left (which is really North, but shows as South here for some reason). Cho Oyu is the tallest white triangle in that direction. It seems the 360 app has it's directions backwards, because what's West in this image is actually East and South is North. shrug

Nepal is somewhere I'll be returning to as soon as I can. Now that I'm a "family man" that may be a decade or more away, but I can't wait to take my wife and family back to Gokyo Ri.

The friendliness of the Nepalis is amazing. The cost of getting to and around Nepal is relatlively low (compared to Europe or the Americas, for us Australians) and despite their horrid political history I feel it's a safe enough place to take children.

Flew to Microsoft Convergence

From Nepal, I flew directly to Atlanta, USA for Convergence 2011. Not having been home to Australia, I arrived at the Hilton Hotel to meet a customer of mine looking and feeling rather shabby after the 24 hours of travel which were added onto two weeks of walking in the wilderness!

This was my first trip to America, and I was pleasantly surprised by a few things:

  • Southern hospitality rocks
  • Beer selection at hotels in the US rocks
  • The Microsoft Dynamics ecosystem is big, and full of very intelligent and friendly people.
  • The Atlanta aquarium is mightily impressive. Whale sharks indoors? Wow.

There were also a few things which I was unimpressed with.

  • The first meal offered to me in the US was on a Delta flight from Newark to Atlanta. The 7am breakfast offering was a bag of peanuts and a can of Coca-Cola.
  • Country fried steak. What the fuck, America?
  • Atlanta isn't a pretty city. It's obvious not much has been done to maintain the city since the '96 Olympics.

Overall though, the trip was very much worthwhile. Returning home I was lucky enough to be on a near-new V Australia 777. A pretty nice bit of kit.

Travelled too much

In 8 months I've done enough travel at work to go from zero to Gold membership with Virgin Australia. Note that my Nepal & US trips only included a single leg that calculated status, and it contributed less than 10% of my status points for the year.

That's a sign that you travel too much.

Earned my long service leave

Yup, I've been at the one place for 10 years. Kind of, anyway... Five years with my former employer who "merged" (read: were bought out) by Professional Advantage five years ago. That makes 10 years of employment without an interview.

Sped up on the Microsoft stuff

My day job is as a consultant for Professional Advantage. I specialise in, and spend all of my time on, the Microsoft Dynamics CRM application. Many people don't realise that Microsoft has a strong business division. No, not Office and Windows. I'm talking the Microsoft Dynamics suite.

Dynamics CRM is a pretty good product. It's flexible, it works well for small business through to enterprise, and it integrates bloody well with Microsoft Office.

The latest version, Dynamics CRM 2011, was released earlier this year. As a result I've had the opportunity to learn a new product and get more involved in our pre-sales process which has been great fun. I wouldn't call CRM2011 a "reinvention" of previous versions, but it's given me enough new work that I can keep working on exciting projects while I learn the ins and outs of a major upgrade.

Part of working at a Microsoft partner is that you're immersed into the Microsoft technical ecosystem. I've spent the past 12 months (and more) learning about SQL Server, Reporting Services, data migrations, and all sorts of other stuff that we never get exposed to in the open source world.

It's very easy to write off Microsoft products, simply because they come out of Redmond. The past few years have taught me that that's bullshit.

Let a few things slip

My open source commitments have fallen by the wayside a little, it seems.

Unfortunately this year I've neglected some of the Open Source stuff I've contributed to in the past. This includes DjangoSites (which I still maintain, but not too proactively), django-helpdesk, which needs some maintenance; and this blog.

I've managed to rebuild WhisperGifts but not relaunch. I've built GoHike but not launch. If this year was for building, next is for launching.


I think that's enough reflection for now. There has been plenty more happen over the past year and it's been tricky at times to keep up.

I've got few plans for next year. I want to slow down a little and get used to life as a dad. I won't be building anything big and new, but I'm committed to launching a few projects that are already 95% done.

I'm going to do more walking. Our first trip as a family will be early in the new year, and I'm hoping to spend some of it wandering the high plains of the Victorian north-east with baby in tow. I'm also keen on taking up rock climbing as an alternative to hiking - day trips where you achieve something are easier to manage vertically than horizontally, it seems.

And that's it. No huge projects to undertake. No big holidays planned. Just living & loving life.

Be safe over the holidays and I'll be back in the new year!