Tag Archive: personal.

2016: My Year in Running

#2016 in running bibs and bling. More trails than road - didn't see that coming a year ago. A couple 10k & 21.1k PBs amongst this lot, too.

A post shared by Ross Poulton (@ross_poulton) on

At the start of 2016, I set myself some running goals. Although 2016 finished almost a half year ago, I thought I should revisit them and set some new goals. Most of this, particularly the goals, was written early this year however I didn't get around to hitting 'Publish' until the end of May. Oh bene.

In short, I kept running. Lots. Overall my year was pretty different to my assumptions at the start of the year - and I'm sure glad it did. The general theme of my goals for 2016 was "do what you did last year, but farther and/or faster". The reality was much more fun: I started running on trails, started to enjoy running up hills, and embraced the longer slower run.

So how'd I go?

2016 Goals

I hit most of my targets for 2016. Here, in bold, are the goals I set for myself a year ago - followed by my progress through the year.

  • Continue running. Check. In 2015 I ran 98 times for a total of 512km; in 2016 I ran 155 times and covered 1,242km.
  • Finish three half-marathons, with at least one under 1:40:00. I did do three half-marathons: Westerfolds Park Half Marathon in March (1h58m), Great Ocean Road Marathon Festival Half Marathon (1h52m half marathon; 2h03m total); Run Melbourne Half Marathon (1h49m). By the time I ran Run Melbourne I had changed my priorities and put less emphasis on massive PBs, as I had done 20km trail races in the 2 weeks before and 2 weeks after.
  • Get my 10K pace to below 50 minutes Check. 49:50 is below 50 minutes right?. This was on the hilly Beechworth Fun Run, which I'll revisit in 2017. I also went around 49min as part of the 10.6km Run for the Firies. I think these were the only two 10km races I ran in 2016.
  • Great Ocean Road half marathon, Run Melbourne Half Marathon, and Melbourne Marathon Half Marathon events are on my calendar. I did the first two of these; instead of running at Melbourne Mara I ran up some steep hills in Kinglake. It was free and it was much more fun, but I didn't get a medal.

The year I discovered Trail Running

Been a while since I've bought an event t-shirt... couldn't go past this one. πŸƒπŸΌπŸŒˆπŸ¦„

A post shared by Ross Poulton (@ross_poulton) on

2016 was the year I discovered trail running. I've always enjoyed bushwalking and hiking, but for some reason had never really run through the bush. I live on the suburban fringe of Melbourne, and there are great trails right on my doorstep - including some epic technical mountain bike trails (which are on public land, ready to run!) and many fire access tracks otherwise closed to vehicular traffic.

I ran a couple of the Hoka One One Trail Running Series at Plenty Gorge and Silvan Reservoir and had a fantastic time.

Later in the year I ran the nighttime Afterglow Trail Half Marathon, starting a bit before dusk and finishing on the beach well after dark. The awesome Trail Running Rainbow Unicorn t-shirt in the above picture was from this run and I wear it regularly with pride.

Aside from trails, I also set a new parkrun personal best of 21:45 in August - going for a fastest time at the peak of event training is a great way to test where I'm at compared to previous training cycles.

2017 Goals

I'm going to cheat a little bit here since we're already half way through the year...

  • Smash the trails.
  • Get a road half marathon time under 1h45m.
  • Finish a bunch of trail half marathons
  • Get a 10km time under 45 minutes
  • Get a parkrun time below 21 minutes
  • Run something longer than a half marathon

2015 In Review

2015 In Review

It doesn't seem that long ago that I wrote up my 2014 list - but it's obviously far enough in the past that I don't really remember what I was trying to achieve this year, but it's worth a review - even if we are already six weeks into the new year!

The big stuff in my life in 2014 - death, birth, and home renovations - were, relatively speaking, out of mind in 2015. I had no big personal or career changes, but lots of little things.

Here's my notes to my future self on what I did in 2015, and what I want to do in 2016. None of the following is overly exciting, but I want them recorded for my own future reference.

General stuff

  • Got out in the Campervan. Not as much as we wanted, but spent a total of 14 nights away from home in it. Installed a water pump so we have water without manually pumping like the dark ages. Included two trips of 4 nights each, completely off-grid, without drama.
  • Pilates has kept me away from the physiotherapist - except for when I busted my knee over-training for the half marathon
  • Built a bigger vegetable patch and got some chickens.
  • Bought a 4x4 to tow our campervan - does a much better job than my Subaru!

Kids

Gosh they change quickly, every week brings Below are a couple of stand-out memories for me from the past year:

  • Watched our 3 (now 4) year old move into swimming lessons by himself rather than swimming with Lauren or I. Incredibly satisfying to watch him swim laps of the little swim school pool
  • Played video games (on a TV, rather than his iPad educational stuff) with Mr 4 and had a ball. Super Nintendo classics from my childhood (on my original SNES console, not an emulator!) including Donkey Kong Country and Mario Kart as well as Apple TV newcomers like Crossy Road were a real hit.

Running

Professional

Since mid-2014 I've been entrenched in two of Melbourne's horse racing clubs working on CRM projects for managing their members and raceday events. It's been interesting, but I'd be lying if I didn't look forward to a project in a new industry.

Both of those clubs "went live" with their new CRM systems with relative success, and both provided their own challenges: most of our projects tend to be back-office systems that don't directly interact with the public at large, so having the pressure of thousands of members of the public trying to scan tickets into a racecourse was a new experience for me.

Due to re-prioritisation of my time I've done pretty much no open-source work, nor have I spent much time on WhisperGifts. Both continue to tick along.

2015 Goals

Based on what I hoped at this time last year I've done OK, but missed a couple of targets.

  • Run twice a week, including three parkruns a month: I ran 90 days in 2015 (including an 11-day streak in December), so not quite twice a week. I've also only done 9 parkruns, not even once a month. I think my overall running is acceptable, though.
  • Complete a 10km run. Smashed it, multiple times - and then went on to run 21.1km!
  • Spend 30 nights in the Campervan, including 5+ nights off the grid in one trip We did half of these nights - and two 4-nighters. Needs work.
  • Meditate Daily, or at least twice a week. Fail. Didn't meditate even once.

2016 goals

  • Spend much, much more time with my wife and kids.
  • Build another vegetable patch, and finish re-landscaping the front yard
  • Continue running.
    • Finish three half-marathons, with at least one under 1:40:00.
    • Get my 10K pace to below 50 minutes (hopefully this "just happens" by focussing on the 21.1k distance)
    • Great Ocean Road half marathon, Run Melbourne Half Marathon, and Melbourne Marathon Half Marathon events are on my calendar.
  • Spend 30+ nights in the campervan, most of them off-grid, with a 5+ night off-grid trip

Photo: Morning mist at Sheepyard Flat campground, in October 2015

Run Melbourne 2015 - My First Half Marathon

Run Melbourne 2015 - My First Half Marathon

Half Marathon is a pretty stupid name for an event. Those in the know are suitably impressed at the ability of the athlete1 to run for 21.1km (13.1 freedom kilometers2), but everyone else wants to know why you're only running half a race.

I started running early in 2014 after 30 years of a pretty sedentary lifestyle. It only took a couple of months but a friend and I got to the point where we could regularly run 4-5km without any serious side effects. I finished Run For the Kids 5.4km in March 2014 and again in March 2015, but not much else. Something spurred me on to run the Beechworth Fun Run, a hilly 10k held over the Easter weekend in April 2015. It was the farthest I'd even run, and I finished in 57 minutes (with a couple of stints of walking - I got a bit enthusiastic running up out of the scenic Beechworth Gorge).

That led to my sister suggesting that if I could do a hilly 10k run, I could do a flat 21.1k "easily"... It turns out that while it wasn't overly easy, it's certainly possible: Two weeks ago I finished the Run Melbourne Half Marathon in 1 hour, 59 minutes, 40 seconds. 20 seconds shy of my target pace.


The run wasn't only about proving to myself that I could run that far.

After the shocking earthquake in Nepal in April 2015, my wife and I had wanted to organise a fundraising ball to raise money to help out how we could. We chose the Australian Himalayan Foundation as our charity of choice, found a venue, and built a website - but unfortunately circumstances dictated that we couldn't push ahead with the event in the timeframe where it would have been most useful.

To continue to do my bit for the people of Nepal, I decided to fundraise for the AHF as part of my Run Melbourne campaign. Using the ubiquitous Everyday Hero I set up a fundraising page named Ross Runs For Nepal and solicited donations from friends and family using Facebook and in-person guilting. Everyday Hero and their ilk have done a good job of simplifying this process, and I was able to raise $469 for the AHF by the time I started my run - funds boosted nicely by my promise to personally match every donation received before the run. Some generous donations afterwards brings my total at time of publishing to $626.50, which I'm incredibly happy with.


My training hadn't been ideal. I suffered a batch of episodes of Benign positional vertigo about 6 weeks before the race, followed by a headcold. We then got a bout of unseasonally cold weather that made me, a big softie, stay inside. All up I missed 3 of my long runs and a handful of speedwork / quality runs.

Regardless, I was mentally ready to run - until I went out with the Ballarat parkrun crew for a comfy (but cold, being Ballarat in July) 5k run while we were staying in town with some friends of ours. The run went great 3 but then I started getting pain - a lot of pain - on the outside of my knee. A trip to the physio quickly diagnosed Iliotibial band syndrome, a relatively common disorder in runners. In my case it's caused by weak legs - so there will be plenty of squats, lunges, and leg presses in my future.

A Pilates session, some acupuncture, some smart taping, and fistfuls of ibuprofen got me to the start line and, somehow, to the finish line. I walked for a total of maybe 300 meters, I managed to change my shirt4 whilst running, and I even managed to show some excitement when my wife took a photo at the 20.5km mark.

Best of all I've shown myself that I can do this, even with an injured leg. I'm going to recover properly (as I write I'm about to head to the physiotherapist. Again.) and get back into training for another half marathon, sometime before the end of the year.

And by then, I'll have figured out the right answer to "Why are you only running half a race?".

Photos: The pre-dawn starting line at The Age Run Melbourne, Sunday 26th July 2015, by Ross Poulton. Ross shows medal and hides pain, by Lauren Poulton


  1. Yeah, athlete is a pretty loose term when you're talking about a guy who runs a just-sub-2-hour half marathon. Sounds better than "runner", though. 

  2. Known to North Americans as "miles", for some reason 

  3. I almost set a 5k PB! That's not meant to happen a week before a big race... it speaks volumes about the dead-flat Ballarat course versus our slightly-undulating course at home in Diamond Creek 

  4. Yep. I'd misjudged the weather forecast and started with a long-sleeved running shirt and my race shirt on... by the 5km mark I was too warm, so whilst running removed my race shirt, removed my long shirt, and put my race shirt back on. I dumped the long-sleeve shirt at the next kilometer flag, to be donated to charity. I hope they can wash it first. 

2014 In Review

What a year 2014 was. I know we're already a week into the new year, but there's a few things I wanted to list out - however terse some items are - so at least I can tell in the future what happened, when.

I won't go into details for most of these items, but it's safe to say I had a busy year.

Personal

  • In March, our second son was born. At four, our family is now complete.
  • Spent much of the early part of 2014 coming to grips with the loss of my father
  • On the last day of 2014, my uncle lost his battle with brain cancer.
  • Bought a Campervan, and enjoyed a bunch of fun trips away with my family. It's like camping, but with a fridge.
  • Took up running and improved my 5K time from almost 7 minutes per Km to around 5:25 per Km. We have a parkrun near home which I've only managed to get to once. I entered my first big event, the Run Melbourne and had a very respectible 5km time.
  • Did a better job with my diet and dropped 5 kilograms and two inches off my waist.
  • Renovated our house and made it a much nicer place for us to spend time
    • Replaced the entire kitchen, plus laundry cabinets
    • Re-tiled the floor
    • Painted everywhere
    • Block-out blinds to all bedrooms
    • Other minor stuff
  • Became Zoo Members and visited on two consecutive Christmases
  • Built my first Lego kit with my eldest son (he loves Duplo, and got some Lego for Christmas. His 3 year old patience isn't quite ready yet)
  • Tried meditating a bunch of times, particularly when I was struggling with various issues. It was peaceful and satisfying, and I'm not sure why I haven't done it more.
  • Took up Pilates to help deal with ongoing back pain. It's working bloody well.

Professional

2014 was a good year for projects at work. I've been fully booked and had a couple of nice milestones.

My day job is going well and I'm really enjoying it. Client relationships are better than previously and I'm getting really good feedback. That really makes work more enjoyable!

  • January: Completed a large project; the first I'd been pretty much solely responsible for from start to finish.
  • Mid-year: Worked with a large Charity, again solo from start to finish.
  • Since July: Things are going very well with one of Melbourne's racing clubs. The client is very happy and my co-workers have been fantastic, although being on-site by myself gets lonely after a while.

Work outside "work" was quiet this year and wasn't a major focus of mine. My open source contributions are way down, but projects like django-helpdesk continue to get good community input.

WhisperGifts is doing well. We've done some minor redesign work and added nice new features. It isn't making me rich, but people get real value from it and I see more paid users than free users (excluding those who sign up for free but don't go on to use it)

2015?

Right now my 2015 goals are relatively simple. The work on our house is pretty much complete and I need to spend more time with my kids and focusing on my mental and physical health. So I have just four things I will push hard to achieve:

  • Get back into running. At least 2 runs a week, including a 5K Parkrun at least three Saturdays a month.
  • Complete a 10km run.
  • Spend at least 30 nights away from home in the Campervan, including a trip with 5+ nights off the grid.
  • Meditate. Daily would be nice but I'll be very happy with 10 minutes twice a week.

I'm excited. Early 2014 was somewhat tumultuous, but things have settled down now and I'm ready for a happy and peaceful year ahead.

Eulogy for my father

Three weeks ago, on September 4th, my father Phillip Harry Poulton passed away at age 58 after a brief battle with cancer of the gall bladder. The toughest thing I've ever done was read part of his eulogy along with my siblings, mum, and Dad's friends.

I'm very proud of my Dad, and I'm happy with the stories about my time with him that I was able to squeeze into the few short minutes that I spoke.

Below is one of my earlier drafts, which has more detail than what I read at his funeral on September 11th 2013. At the bottom is a video that was recorded - I've included this for friends and family who weren't able to make the service - I assume it isn't fascinating viewing for anybody else.

A number of newspaper notices were placed for my Dad, from friends, family, and his colleagues. You can read tributes to Phil Poulton on the Herald Sun website.

Like most people, I learned a heck of a lot from my Dad. Chatting to my siblings it was clear that we all saw Dad in much the same way - he was genuine to everybody he met, and didn't filter his personality to suit the audience.

Dad married my mother, his first wife, and they renovated their home together in Ringwood. I was their eldest child, but not their first pregnancy - Dad helped mum through a miscarriage in an earlier pregnancy, setting the scene for the strong role he'd play for the rest of his family life. The fernery in their Ringwood home was expanded as a small memorial for their unborn baby.

We moved to Mitcham before I started school, into a house that was continually being worked on.

Before Benn started school, Mum and Dad showed us the world. We moved temporarily to the UK for a working holiday, to a small town outside Cambridge called Royston. My memories are foggy but fond, and seemed to involve more time driving our little Ford hatchback around Europe than we did at school or work.

Whilst in Royston, Mum discovered a lump - she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The UK jaunt was cut short, and we returned home for treatment.

In 1992, Mum passed away. Benn was 6, and I was 9.

When I look back on my hero father, it's from this point forward that he really deserved that badge. He was a widowed father of two young boys, working full time, running regularly, but he couldn't cook to save himself. For a short while, Benn and my diet consisted of sausages in bread and "fruit cake" - but I use both words loosely. Sue recently reminded me of the recipe, which was a grand total of 5 ingredients: flour, bran, milk, dried fruit, and sugar. You'll notice a distinct lack of eggs.

Apparently such a loaf is fantastic for endurance runners, but Benn was lucky enough to get one for his birthday one year. It seems to be one of the few things for which he hasn't forgiven Dad.

Even through this grief, the accountant in Dad kicked in. Although he was working hard at Heritage Seeds, and trying to keep up with Benn and I, Dad made sure mum's teachers superannuation was shared between Benn and I - a forethought that gave both of us a huge help to buy our first homes.

Alice and Bill, my maternal grandparents, were and still are a huge part of our lives. They often lived with us, and us with them. Dad still called grandpa "Dad", even though there they were inlaws.

A while after Mum died, new neighbours moved in, so Dad went over to introduce himself to the lovely blonde who had started making a new home with her two kids.

My memory is hazy, but I'm told that it was Ben and Benn who became great friends and knocked a hole in the fence. Something tells me that's only part of the story, since I doubt Dad would have let a primary school kid loose on his fence with a powersaw - but soon after, we were a regular fixture for dinner at Lesley's house.

I'm sure Dad would have hosted Lesley, Ben, and Tash for dinner, but he was trying to make an impression - and sausages and cake wasn't going to help his cause.

Soon after, we found ourselves living together as one family here in Eltham. Dad always seemed to have a love for Eltham, especially for places such as Montsalvat where we are today - lots of trees, lots of timber, and other eclectic building materials. Many of you will know of our first house in Eltham, a timber and mud brick house that was always being extended upon. This theme of always improving was one of the biggest that rubbed off on me, as evidenced by the number of half-finished jobs around home.

My time in Eltham was my true formative years: I started high school, made lifelong friends, and really got to know Dad's own lifelong friends. As time went on, I learned more and more about the world, much of it from Dad's viewpoint. I was learning from Dad until the day he passed away.

Dad got me my first job, doing work experience with the company who looked after the computers at Heritage Seeds. As a result, through a series of buyouts and cross-training, I've never had to interview for a new job - yet I've ended up working somewhere I love with a fantastic group of people.

We often spoke politics at the dinner table, although we rarely saw eye to eye. The weekly dinner table was where we bought our own growing families, to talk with and learn from Pa. It was also the scene for the infamous "Sonos Battles".

Us four kids had always considered Dad a bit of a ... let's just say he was an Accountant. Fads, trends, and new stuff wasn't his cup of tea, and as he held the cash we weren't likely to be sporting new video games or the latest Nikes.

When he moved to the new house at Wombat Drive, something seemed to change. Maybe it was because we weren't in his back pocket all the time, but suddenly there was a huge TV. Then two more, just in case.

The old record player was put on the nature strip, and a top of the range surround sound system found it's way into the living room, along with a remote-controlled music system.

It became a bit of a game at Sunday dinner to see who could choose a song that would actually get played through to the end. One of us kids would chose something contemporary, and we'd all happily hear the first half of the song. Dad would then decide that he'd like to hear Aretha Franklin, so he would pull out his phone and queue up an Aretha Franklin song. Well, he tried to - but every time, without fail, we ended up with the entire Aretha Franklin back catalogue, including live versions, cover songs, and interviews. And he didn't just queue them up to play after our one song - he stopped the song hard halfway through, and we'd hear the opening bars of "R.E.S.P.E.C.T", followed by her rendition, as lovely as it was, of "Bridge over Troubled Water".

Dad was a pretty non-technical person, who still did his banking with bits of paper. To watch a new guest arrive for the first time was amusing, as they tried to deal with Dad's excited demonstrations of wireless music selection. Who would have thought that after a life of collecting 8-tracks and then records, that he'd be most enthusiastic about music over the internet.

Watching him in the last few years I learned a few other useful lessons. It turns out, that a caravan cannot be too large. It also cannot have too many gadgets. Once the gadget-laden caravan arrives, there's no reason not to go out and buy more gadgets to go in it.

It turns out it's also OK to wear shorts. Dad was particularly rapt one night after going shopping on his way to running, having had a stranger at the supermarket yell out "Nice legs!".

Even when we landed in Nepal, our Sherpa guide, Lhakpa, asked with a concerned face, "Mr Phil, do you know you are in Lukla?". Dad was doing us proud, surrounded by the permanently ice-capped Himalayas - wearing his shorts.

Dad also taught us that coffee is a great way to catch up with friends and family. Meeting for Saturday coffee was as important as Sunday dinner, as Ollie sat on Pa's lap to eat his muffin while we slowly started our weekends. More recently, we'd started bumping into each other at the coffee shop before work. It was a nice coincidence that we started going out of our way to foster a few days a week, even if it was only a 2 minute chat while getting a take away coffee.

But above all, Dad was all about family and friends, tied together by music - and he used it to make us laugh at the saddest of times.

Last Wednesday afternoon, with friends and family sitting in the sun at home, we put on a playlist Dad had built called "Phil's Favourites". Of course the first 5 hours was everything the Rolling Stones have ever had a part in, but the music kept going, and going, and going. I guess that's the advantage to adding entire discographies to your playlist.

As the evening wore on, we knew what the outcome would be. With twenty of us surrounding Dad's bed in tears, we kept talking to him and listening to the music he queued up.

Then, some of the worst music interviewing I've heard came onto the stereo and filled the room. I have no idea who it was, or why an interview was even on Spotify, but his living room was filled with noise we didn't want to listen to. We reached for Dad's iPad, to try to get back to the music - but it refused to work for us. His horrid music management made us all laugh, both with him and at him, at a time when we should have been in tears.

Luckily we fixed the music, and soon after Elton John's "Candle in the Wind" came on. It was quite possibly the last music he ever heard.

The messages and support I've received from everybody around me has been simply amazing, for which I'm eternally grateful. Good friendships make tough times that little bit easier.

Dad's gall bladder cancer was rare and aggressive. In his memory, we've been raising some funds for the Forgotten Cancers Project at the Cancer Council of Victoria. More research into this cancer might help extend the lives of future patients, so that they may spend more time with their families than the three months we got with my dad.

Why you shouldn't buy cheap watches, and investigate odd sleeping patterns in kids.

A fun anecdote, showing why you should investigate issues that occur too regularly to be co-incidence.

December, 2009 - Tasmania, Australia

A few years ago, my wife and I went to Tasmania and walked the stunningly gorgeous Overland Track, a 65 kilometer (5-day) walk through isolated north-west-central Tasmania. If you're into hiking, you need to get yourself to Tasmania.

Wanting to keep track of time, Lauren bought a new watch. It was cheap, plastic, and bright purple - but at least it wasn't an expensive dress watch - perfect for the great outdoors.

Way before dawn one morning at 4am, sleeping in our expensive hiking tent on a camping platform in the middle of the bush (there are tent platforms throughout the park so as to protect the ground - this is a delicate area) the alarm went off. This little purple watch just started beeping, and never gave up.

In a bushwalking-induced tired haze, Lauren tried to disable the alarm. Floundering and quickly becoming frustrated, she commandeered my pocket knife and tried to stab the watch into silence - somehow avoiding tearing a hole in the floor of our nearly-new tent.

A week later, we returned home and packed our hiking gear away in our spare bedroom. Every now and then we take some of the gear out for a weekend, then it goes back into the cupboard. Unused items, such as the purple watch, slowly float to the bottom of our gear bags.

September, 2011 - Melbourne, Australia

In September last year, our little boy was born. We gave him our "spare room", and cleared out some of the junk in the cupboard. Half of our hiking gear got shifted to the garage, but for now half of it stayed at the bottom of the cupboard in the spare room.

Life's different, when you've got kids. Your "room to dump everything you don't need right now" room isn't yours, any more.

(I'm sure you know where this is going)

Saturday, 16th June, 2012 - Melbourne, Australia

Our kid's sick. First he was teething, which seems to hit the immune system pretty hard. So he got a cold, which he promptly gave to Lauren and I. Finally, it morphed into full-blown Tonsillitis, so it's safe to say none of us are getting a very good night's sleep right now.

Because he's been sick, the boy wakes regularly during the night. Poor fella. The really odd thing, though, was that he was waking right on 4am every night. The accuracy of his night waking was uncanny.

As parents, we are trying to teach our son to self-settle. If he wakes during the night, we try to give him 5-10 minutes by himself to re-settle, and much of the time it works. He learns that he doesn't need us by his side to fall asleep, and we get to stay just that little bit warmer.

So when you added all of this up, we had a chain of events something like this:

  • 4:00am The alarm went off at 4am, waking our son. Being in another room, it was too quiet for us to hear.
  • 4:01am We'd stay in bed for 5 minutes to see if he'd re-settle.
  • 4:04am After beeping for a few minutes, the watch would give up and turn it's alarm off.
  • 4:05am After 5 minutes, we'd sometimes have to go and settle him down. In a sleepy haze, we'd notice it was always 4:05am when we went in to see him.

With his illness this weekend, though, Lauren decided to settle him earlier - right away, in fact.

When she got into his bedroom at 4:01am on Sunday morning to help him get back to sleep, she heard it. The beeping. Flashes of pocket knives and cold tent floors came rushing back, and she managed to fish the wash out of it's bag. The "I'm going flat, dammit, gimme a new battery!" state of the watch had re-triggered it's incessant alarm at 4am each day.

Sunday, 17th June 2012 - Melbourne, Australia.

Revenge: we drowned the watch whilst cleaning the dishes.

2011 In Review

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.

2012?

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!

Jutda: Django-powered Solution Provider

In my recent catchup blog post I mentioned in passing a few projects including Jutda and WhisperGifts. Now, I'd like to formally introduce the former of these (with the latter coming very soon now)

When I'm not 'at work', I spend a significant amount of time working on other projects both independently and together with other talented developers. These days, all of these projects are powered by Django.

Jutda is the glue that will pull these projects together under a single name.

The name comes from the nearly-extinct Wagiman language, spoken by a small number of indigenous Australians. It means "to point" or "to show", which I've taken on as the ethos of my new company: We’re aiming to show the way to others, to make life easier through the use of elegant online solutions.

The ultimate aim is to create simple solutions for everyday problems. No bells, no whistles, just beautiful outcomes for ugly problems.

More information about Jutda can be seen on the About Jutda page, and in the initial blog post I published on the Jutda website.

The first project that's been finished and published is WhisperGifts, about which I'll write more in a future blog post. I'm very excited about the possibilities of this, and the impact it may have on couples in the process of organising their wedding festivities.

I've also got a few other projects in the pipeline, with no fixed feature-set or timeline. Projects that are well on their way to adulthood include:

  • A personal fixed asset register: Do you know the serial number of your television? The warranty details for your refrigerator? The phone number of the guy who borrowed your Playstation for his son to use over Christmas? What would you do if your house burnt down tomorrow, taking all of your warranty paperwork with it? I'm helping you sort out this mess.
  • A personal information manager: There's been many takes on these, but none of them suit my needs quite well enough. Why can't I keep track of pages of information along with photos, embedded maps, lists, enhanced details of my contacts, and more - all in one place?
  • An open-source ticket tracker / helpdesk system. We're currently using a Django-powered helpdesk system internally to manage WhisperGifts support queries, and we're in the process of cleaning it up and abstracting it out from our other systems so that we can publish it for everybody to see and use. It's written in Django, it has full e-mail integration, it has both public and private web interfaces, and it provides open access to your data. It rocks.

So that's Jutda. Although I'm not planning for it to take over and become a full-time job, I hope to get some useful tools out in the wild for everyday consumers, whilst contributing further code back to the Django community wherever possible. Wish me luck!

Wedding Registry Post Mortem

I married by lovely wife on March 31st of this year. To handle our gift registry, I used my new Registry website (which I've spoken about in the past). Although I'm not quite ready to go live, I've analysed some of the data from our usage of the Registry system and made some interesting observations.

The chart to the right shows cumulative purchases over time, from the first purchase (around two months before the wedding, when we gave invites & registry details to our families) to the last purchase, 2 days before the wedding.

I've removed the numbers from the y-axis as they're irrelevant to everybody except me, but the axis hasn't been altered at all -- the scale has been kept intact and increases proportionately from 0 to n.

As you can see, the bulk of the purchases happened two-three weeks before the wedding. In fact, until 17 days before the wedding there were only around 10% of purchases.

Other quick observations that we noticed:

  • Although we listed our items in order of priority, the priority not the most important factor to purchasers (this takes into account price of items too -- we didn't just put big-ticket items at the top of the list, it was (we belive) a pretty even spread of prices.
  • Most people veered away from suggestions that were unique or otherwise not mainstream. This is probably a valid representation of our invite list, more than anything -- we did get some fantastic unique gifts from people who are more open to being untraditional!
  • More traditional guests (mostly our grandparents or older relatives) still prefer traditional gifts and/or cash. Nothing will change that, and nor should it change.
  • Only one guest didn't understand the registry system -- they thought they were shopping online rather than selecting gifts they can then go and buy themselves. I've since clarified the wording on the website.
  • Feedback shows guests were happy to be able to browse a list of items we had suggested for them to buy us, and they were happy to then be able to go to their own choice of store and make the purchase.
  • A few guests were able to use their work or other industry contacts to get us items off the list that we wanted, without spending as much of their hard-earned cash. This is the way I planned for the registry website to be used!

For most people this is probably relatively useless information -- but we found it interesting and it may assist others with preparing their registries.

I'm hoping to announce my registry website soon so people can start using it -- I'm moving it to a new server at the moment, and changing the look and feel to be a little less nerdy. Stay tuned.

What's Wrong with Bridal Registries

Next month, I'm getting married. For reasons unknown to me, getting married costs money. Lots of money.

That's not a huge problem, and to be honest it's not overly surprising. It just strikes me as odd that an entire industry is built around charging exhorbitant amounts of cash for services identical to those offered to others at much lower prices - and people pay for it.

Yet it's not just the bride and groom getting ripped off when it comes to the big day - wedding guests are expected to buy gifts for the happily married couple (which, of course, I don't have an issue with) however these same guests are expected to purchase their goods from overpriced department stores from pre-selected gift lists.

Why, as a couple getting married, should we lock our guests (who are very generous in deciding to buy us something to assist with our new life together) into being ripped off when they buy us gifts?

This portion of the industry needs a change - and I'm working hard on it. I'm starting a new service for couples getting hitched, to let them give everybody more flexibility when it comes to bridal registries.

Couples will have more flexibility when it comes to selecting gifts they'd like to receive. Guests will have more flexibility when it comes to purchasing gifts. Most importantly, nobody will be ripped off.

My new service, which I'll be launching publicly soon, works. It works well. Hand-picked couples have used it over the past few months with fantastic feedback. I'm using it now for my wedding, again with fantastic feedback from guests.

Soon, you'll be able to use it too. Lets get some simplicity back into weddings.

Engagement Party Photos Done

I've just put the rest of the Engagement Party photos online. Some are a bit dark & blurry, but we'll remove those later. Captions will also come later.

Engagement Party Photos

On Sunday afternoon Lauren and I had our Engagement party to celebrate with friends & family our recent engagement. Not all of the photos are up yet, but the first batch are ready to look at.

The photos can be found in my gallery.

Gallery is Online Again

I've just put parts of my photo gallery back online, using a new gallery application I wrote in Django. I've only got a few sets of photos online right now, the rest should be ready to go shortly.

You'll see with the sets I have there so far, the locations are drawn on a satellite photo of Australia, thanks to Google Maps. Try zooming in on some of the places, especially around Melbourne. They are quite high resolution images and it's fascinating what you can see.

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