Joining Stripe

I’ve been searching for a new position since finishing at the Ada Initiative at the end of September 2015. On January 11, I was very happy to join Stripe in Australia as a Partner Engineer, working as a technical expert with Stripe’s partners.

Stripe is the best way to accept payments online and in mobile apps. (It’s pretty cool to see the change in payments since the last time I worked in a payments company.) My job will involve working closely with Australian companies, which I am especially looking forward to after ending up with a lot of US and Silicon Valley focus over the past few years of my life.

I’ll mostly be based remotely in Sydney, with regular visits to the Australian team in Melbourne. I’m thrilled to work closely with Susan Wu, Mac Wang, and the team in Australia, as well of course as with the company as a whole. I spent my first two weeks with Stripe in San Francisco and love how friendly and welcoming my colleagues are.

Work at Stripe

Stripe is just starting to build a Sales and Partner Engineering team to go with their strong Support Engineering team. If you’re interested in joining me in the Field Engineering team at Stripe, there are multiple positions open, and they include the Head of Field Engineering and Sales Engineering Manager (to whom I will report), both San Francisco-based. If you want to work in Australia. there is a Sales Engineer position open in Melbourne.

If you want to talk to me about working at Stripe, email (hey look at that, there’s still firstname@ opportunities too!)

Post-Squeezebox audio setup at long last

We stuck with the Logitech Squeezebox system for streaming home audio long long past discovering that Logitech was ending development of the ecosystem but inevitably it started to date. Our Squeezebox Classic didn’t survive our house move in May. Our Squeezebox Boom and Squeezebox Radio did, but over the last year Andrew subscribed to Google Play Music, I switched to a podcasting app (Pocket Casts) for my phone rather than a command line tool that downloaded new episodes (podget), and so more and more things became phone-only and unable to easily send audio to the Squeezeboxen.

We like whole-home audio (the ability to play the same thing throughout the house), so even aside from audio quality issues, Bluetooth wasn’t going to cut it. I started to look into switching to the Sonos system, but it was another all-in system where we’d be looking at replacing all of our equipment if Sonos went out of business or end-of-lifed their setup. Logitech, you’ve done a number on the hardware side of whole-home audio systems. So we’ve switched to using good speakers with fairly cheap and disposable ecosystem adaptors, ie, the Chromecast Audio.


  • ReadyMedia (formerly MiniDLNA), which we were already using to stream video to the TV, let’s us continue having access to the audio on our Ubuntu home server
  • BubbleUPnP to send audio from the home server to the Chromecasts

ReadyMedia has to be one of the easiest to configure Linux services I’ve ever dealt with. I’m intending to play around with BubbleUPnP Server in front of ReadyMedia shortly; shared playlists are still a Squeezebox feature missing from this setup so far.

We also needed speakers to replace the Boom and Radio (we could have used their line in function, but we’ll sell them to continuing Squeezebox users). Thus, new equipment to go with the set of Yamaha MSP5 powered speakers we already have:

The mixer is something of a revelation: we’re feeding the TV audio and a Chromecast into it, in order to be able to listen to either of them through the Yamaha speakers without having to press any buttons or even use any kind of remote. Obviously we pretty much never want to listen to the TV and the Chromecast outputs simultaneously; but we can now listen to them in very rapid succession and the energy needed to decide to listen to music in the lounge room is way way lower than it was. Long may the Hamilton cast recording, Justice Crew’s Que Sera, and Doctor Who podcasts be heard around our house.

Eye-catching graphics in two minutes: a wordsmith’s guide

Graphics have been spicing up my writing and slidedecks over my fifteen years as a writer and a public speaker; the simpler and more attractive the better. But it’s not easy to put them there.

I’ve had the good fortune to also have been an amateur photographer the whole time, and have taught myself some basic image editing skills, so when I find an image that’s not quite right but could be, I pop it in an image editor, twiddle a reliable and small set of dials, and out emerges something more eye-catching. Lucky me. And lucky you: the tricks to turn a photo into something simpler and more eye-catching are simple, and today is the day I share my version of them.

Are you a wordsmith more than an visual person? Are you a writer or a public speaker who appreciates the power of a strong visual in other people’s pieces and slide decks, and wish you could just twiddle a few dials and make it happen with your own images? Do you want to make featured images for a WordPress theme, or something to break up a millionty paragraphs of text, or a colourful image to re-engage your audience in your talk? Do you sometimes have an idea of what you want but the images your searches dig up are just a bit flat for your purposes? This is for you.

This entry covers two topics: first, finding existing images that you can make work for you without any further editing. Win! And the next level: when you have an idea of what you want, and you have a photo that… doesn’t quite tell that story… but could… it’s time to make some quick and dirty edits to liven it up. Make the colours a little stronger or stranger, eliminate some clutter, and pull out some detail. Your illustrations are complete!

Eye-catching photos for wordsmiths: principles

Eye-catching images accompanying to your writing or speaking should be brain candy: simple subjects that people can identify at a glance; high contrast so that most people can understand what they’re seen quickly; and understand at a glance; and brightly or interestingly coloured because it’s eye-catching and fun. Your illustrations will usually be a subtlety-free zone.

Luckily simple, colourful, and easy to understand is an appealing set of things to have in a photo, so you’ll often be able to find free photos that you can use without editing. But there’s also a very simple set of tools that will let you take an existing photo and up its simplicity and eye-catching for your work. Finding first; then failing that, editing.

Finding images

Use photos that the photographer allows to be used and changed by other people! The Creative Commons system provides photographers and others with a way to give you this right.

To find images with Creative Commons licences that match my needs, I head on over to Flickr search, with Commercial use & mods allowed selected in the “Any licence” drop down. A couple of Flickr search tips:

  • search for generic terms. If you’re looking to make a point about time, first search for “clock” and “watch” and “sundial”, not things like “clock showing noon” or “bedside clock”. Images are often fairly generically labelled by their creator and you miss some good stuff by going specific.
  • use Flickr’s “Interesting” search tool. There’s a dropdown labelled “Relevant” — by default Flickr is trying to find images whose textual description and tags best match your search term. Try changing it to “Interesting”, to instead find somewhat matching images that are very popular on Flickr. This will often bias towards images that are already technically good, highly saturated, have an unusual subject or setting, and similar; exactly the kind of eye-catching things you want for your blog post or slide deck.

Flickr isn’t the only Creative Commons game in town: there’s also Wikimedia Commons or Google Images (after your search, go to “Search tools”, then “Usage rights” then “Labeled for reuse with modification”.

Caution: often images found this way must still be credited to their creator. Learn more here.

Caution: be careful of images with recognisable people in them. The permission you got to use the image was from the photographer, not the subject. Ethically, the person in the photo may not wish to have their likeness appear with your content, and in some cases using images of people may be restricted by personality rights or privacy rights. It’s usually best to skip images of people, or to buy them from a reputable stock image site.

Editing tools

The point of this tutorial is to make adjustments to some of the most common “knobs” you can twiddle on digital images. If you want to start making edits, and you already have a tool in mind, look up how to crop, how to auto adjust levels, how to change saturation, how to change contrast, and how to change brightness in your chosen graphics software.

In this tutorial, I’ve made the edits to images with Pinta, a free and comparatively simple graphics program for Windows, Mac, and Linux. I haven’t used them, but Paint.NET is a widely recommended equivalently straightforward Windows image editor, and Pixelmator seems highly recommended on Mac.

Editing photos to be eyecatching: short version

  1. crop the image so that the subject of interest comprises most of the image, and is off-center
  2. try auto-level colour adjustments
  3. try somewhat increasing one or more of contrast and saturation, perhaps while twiddling brightness up or down
  4. also try decreasing saturation

That’s it! If you want examples of what this looks like in action, read on!

Editing photos to be eyecatching: with examples

Meet our original images

Old Computer by Sean MacEntee. Old Computer is a surprisingly rare beast: a freely licenced photo of a computer that is being discarded. I find it easy to find great photos for search terms like apple or pen, less so for “computer in trash”. It’s a problem when you write complaints about computers a lot.

Old Computer has two major limitations if you wanted it for your condemnation of the tech industry or your rage at discarding electronics into landfill:

  • it’s “flat” colour-wise: there’s a lot of very similar beige-y colours in the image
  • there’s a lot of classroom in the shot and not a lot of computer-in-bin
A computer monitor in a bin
by Sean MacEntee

PC270246 by NickDun (hereafter called SCUBA). This is a very evocative shot of what scuba diving in a group is like and would be a great addition to your story of getting your mask kicked off by that so-and-so who probably certified yesterday, but:

  • it’s a very typical shot taken with an underwater camera, that is, it’s extremely blue-tinted
  • there’s a lot going on in it; if you want to talk about sunlight and freedom, or if you want to talk about crowds of divers, you may only want to illustrate your post with part of the image
Two divers snorkelling above a large crowd of divers
by NickDun CC BY-SA

Big Rubbish Project: Eden Project 2011 by University of Exeter (hereafter called Big Rubbish). What can I say? Garbage is a versatile metaphor and images of garbage are useful. This image is visually striking: there’s lots of repetition and patterns, and not a lot of extraneous clutter in the surrounding scene. But it also has rather dim, flat colours.

A large pile of empty plastic milk containers inside a rusted metal container.
by University of Exeter

Step 1: crop

Old Computer has an issue with a lot of surrounding space; and SCUBA has two separate things going on in it. This we are going to fix by cropping the image. Cropping means cutting out some of the photo. Where possible, you want to cut out other unrelated objects, and large expanses of foreground and background.

Cropping principle: have the object of interest filling most of the photo, slightly off center.

In Pinta, select the Rectangle Select tool, drag to draw a rectangle over the bits of the image you want to keep, and then go to the Image menu and select Crop to Selection.

Old Computer, cropped so that the computer and the bin occupy much more of the image:

A computer monitor in a bin
by Sean MacEntee, cropped by Mary Gardiner

And two crops of SCUBA, the first showing the divers snorkelling at the top of the image and the second showing the divers grouped at the bottom:

Two divers snorkelling
by NickDun, cropped by Mary Gardiner, CC BY-SA
SCUBA divers groups at bottom of ocean
by NickDun, cropped by Mary Gardiner, CC BY-SA

Honestly I’m a bit sad to crop SCUBA, because the full image is so evocative of the last two or three minutes of SCUBA dives. Let this serve as a lesson: none of this editing is compulsory. Sometimes let less be more.

I’m even more loath to crop Big Rubbish, since as I noted at in its introduction I quite like its current framing. But one possibility with cropped is to change the message of the picture a little. For example, here’s a crop that implies that the extent of the garbage could be much larger:

A large pile of empty plastic milk containers
by University of Exeter, cropped by Mary Gardiner

An even tighter crop, taking out the edges on the bottom and right could imply that it wasn’t well contained.

Having made that illustrative crop, I’ll go back to working with the full version of Big Rubbish in future steps.

Further reading: Rule of Thirds for a guideline on centering or not centering your object of interest.

Step 2: auto level

At the start, we saw that all of Old Computer, SCUBA, and Big Rubbish have “flat colours”. “Auto level” commands are the simplest way to get a good variety of colour levels to diminish this effect.

In Pinta, go to the Adjustments menu, and select Auto Level.

The effect on Big Rubbish is most dramatic and most of an improvement for eye-catching purposes (original on left, auto-levelled on right):

A large pile of empty plastic milk containers inside a rusted metal container.
by University of Exeter, duplicated and colour-adjusted by Mary Gardiner

Contrary to (my) expectations, the effect on Old Computer is extremely subtle (original on left, auto-level on right):

Two images of a computer in a bin, with slightly different colours
by Sean MacEntee, cropped, duplicated, and colour adjusted by Mary Gardiner

But don’t worry, we’re not stopping here with jazzing up Old Computer.

The effect on the two SCUBA shots is dramatic, as it often is with underwater shots. Here’s the top one (original image at top, auto-level at bottom):

Two images of two divers snorkelling, with slightly different colours
by NickDun, cropped, duplicated and colour-adjusted by Mary Gardiner, CC BY-SA

You’ll notice that while the range of colours in the auto-levelled picture is wider, it has not ended up looking especially realistic. Realistic high-fidelity underwater photographs are not easy to produce… but luckily realistic is not our goal here; our goal is striking.

Sadly, the bottom crop of SCUBA is pushing the limits of colour adjustment: if there’s really only blue in the picture, auto-level will find red where-ever it can, no matter how ill-advised (original image at top, auto-level at bottom):

SCUBA divers groups at bottom of ocean; two images in slightly different colours
by NickDun, cropped, duplicated and colour-adjusted by Mary Gardiner, CC BY-SA

Not so great. But give auto-levelling a go with any picture you are trying to edit; there’s always an Undo command.

Step 3: increase contrast and saturation

Increasing contrast increases the distinctness of the colours in the image (beyond auto-level); and increasing saturation increases their richness.

In Pinta, go to the Adjustments menu, and choose “Brightness / Contrast” for a contrast slider, and “Hue / Saturation” for a saturation slider.

Here’s Old Computer, with the Saturation slider (which starts at 100) increased to 150, and the Contrast slider (which starts at 0) increased to 30 (auto-levelled version on left, higher contrast and saturation version on right):

Two images of a computer in a bin, with different colours
by Sean MacEntee, cropped, duplicated, and colour adjusted by Mary Gardiner

And here’s Big Rubbish, with three adjustments. I took Saturation to 130, contrast up to 20, and brightness down to -50 (auto-levelled version on left, higher contrast, higher saturation version, and lower brightness version on right):

by University of Exeter, duplicated and colour-adjusted by Mary Gardiner
by University of Exeter, duplicated and colour-adjusted by Mary Gardiner

Since I’ve made it darker again, and thus more like the original, let’s keep ourselves honest and compare with the original too (original on left, auto-levelled with lower brightness, higher contrast, and higher saturation version on right):

A large pile of empty plastic milk containers, two version with different colours
by University of Exeter, duplicated and colour-adjusted by Mary Gardiner

Our version has a lot more red: the bottles are white rather than blue, and the rusty bin has a warm red tone (partly due to auto-levelling and partly due to increasing the saturation dramatically). So auto-levelling and messing with the colours paid off even though I went and reduced the brightness back down to close to the original.

Saturation is a very powerful slider: make your colours richer by increasing saturation.

That said, sometimes you can do a lot just with contrast. Remember what a mess auto-levelling made of the bottom SCUBA picture? I didn’t give up there. Here’s a version based on the original, with brightness increased to 20 and contrast to 70 (original crop on top, higher contrast and higher brightness version on bottom):

Two images of SCUBA divers groups at bottom of ocean with slightly different colours
by NickDun, cropped, duplicated and colour-adjusted by Mary Gardiner, CC BY-SA

Here manually fiddling with brightness and contrast has pulled some detail out of the picture that auto-levelling didn’t manage to find, and made it much more striking while retaining the other-worldly darkness of SCUBA diving. (Spoiler: your eyes are better than cameras at adjusting, it doesn’t seem that dark while you’re doing it. But you might want to convince your readers or listeners that it is spooky-dark…)

Step three alternative: decrease saturation

Upping saturation to make your rust warm, and your water an inviting sunny-day blue can be very effective, but it’s also worth checking out what effect you get from dialling saturation both ways.

Here’s the top of the SCUBA shot (top version auto-levelled, middle version auto-levelled with contrast increased to 20 and saturation increased to 155, bottom version with contrast increased to 35 and saturation decreased to 25):

Three images of two divers snorkelling, with different colours
by NickDun, cropped, duplicated and colour-adjusted by Mary Gardiner, CC BY-SA

Both of the edits have something to recommend them: the more saturated version in the middle looks like the sunniest dive day in the history of time, and the less saturated version at the bottom looks ethereal and dramatic; my favourite edit that I produced for this post. Try dialling saturation down sometimes, not always and forever up.

And that’s it: you have your basic dials to catch eyes now!

Two minutes to more eye-catching photos

Full disclosure: you’ll have to do a bit of practice to develop your own taste. But here’s your quick steps when you have a photo that could use a bit of “pop” before being added to your writing or your slide deck:

  1. crop the image so that the subject of interest comprises most of the image, and is off-center
  2. try auto-level colour adjustments
  3. try somewhat increasing one or more of contrast and saturation, perhaps while twiddling brightness up or down
  4. also try decreasing saturation

And so wordsmith types: go forth and give people brain candy!

Sunday 3 January 2016

Our family has an unreasoning love for Wet’n’Wild Sydney so this year we bought season passes for Andrew, V, and me. New Years Eve was our second visit of the season. A was at daycare — her daycare’s usual enrolment is 120 children, and on the 31st 30 showed up — so it was the first time there that one adult wasn’t tied to a pre-water sliding child. It’s also the first season V has passed 120cm in height, which means he is tall enough for all but two rides.

And it went pretty well! V is patient enough now for the queues, the worst of which may have been about 45 minutes in length, and was thrilled by the scarier rides with the large “bowls” of water rafts get shot into to churn around. It was very much less good that I did come off a raft and he nearly came off one too at the end of the day. It turns out to be a fatigue-sensitive day out. My one was very calm although I was glad it was me and not V; I slid off the raft straight into the churning pool at the end and couldn’t surface for a moment because the raft was on top of me. Try and try again. V nearly fell onto the slide half-way through a ride, which would have been very frightening for the next ten seconds for us all, but luckily Andrew caught him. The next time we ride the big ones we’ll weight his legs down with ours.

A having daycare let us do more than one V-only thing; we also took him to see The Force Awakens. I liked it a lot, and that’s from a non-fan. V found it both scary and long but surprisingly warmed up towards the end.

This is my last week of unemployment; I’ll be travelling for my new job a week from now. So this is the last Mary-and-V week for a long time. It looks like it is mostly going to rain, so we’ll see how we do. The Good Dinosaur is planned and that’s all so far.

I haven’t worked since the end of September; it’s been a quiet time. I’d like to think about taking occasional sabbaticals throughout my working life but I don’t know if I’ll have that luxury. This time I semi-chose not to launch any serious projects or undertakings. Semi- because job hunting itself is a lot of work. More emotional than hours, I found, but hours too, preparing for job interviews in an industry I haven’t worked in in the usual way since I was 24. Things got more settled from mid-November onwards and then it was about taking a break. I knew I was mentally winding up for activity again when my break included seeing Maxim Vengerov at the Opera House and King Lear at the Sydney Theatre Company. I wasn’t familiar with either the virtuoso violin repertoire or Lear, and I am not that high brow; apparently it was time for an adventure. The woman next to me at Vengerov was there because she tries to see something at the Opera House whenever she visits Sydney. I had a front row seat to Lear and hadn’t realised. Regan’s facility in heels was quite something. I think I will try harder for company at such things in future.

In the short term though, my plan for the next couple of months is “survive and settle”. We’ve had so many changes, with moving and my business closing and my job hunt, that another period of holding our breath until a life pattern emerges is worrying me a lot. As always, we’ll see.

Podcast opinions, 2016

I shared some podcast recommendations a year ago and wasn’t expecting to update them a year later, but my listening has turned over rapidly. I haven’t spent quite as much time on it in 2016 as my older child now objects to listening to “talking” in the car. Drat! I’ll be commuting more in 2016, watch for an uptick.

New this year:

Startup. In a year I shut down a business I was naturally going to listen to the “starting a business” podcast, and to do something I’ve never done before, ie, go back and listen to it from the beginning. I found 2015’s Season 2 about the company Dating Ring a bit of a mixed bag for reasons largely outlined here, but I still enjoy the episodes about Gimlet Media itself. From 2014, Episode 3: How To Divide an Imaginary Pie in which they negotiate a co-founder equity split is a highlight. In 2015’s episodes, I enjoyed Episode 12: Burnout and Episode 16: The Secret Formula about podcast production. They’re going to profile a third company in Season 3, I am curious to see whether the episodes about external companies are ever as good as the ones about Gimlet itself.

NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour, a round-table discussion of (largely American) pop culture, complete with, like Slate Money, the usual round table personality tropes emerging over time. Sample episodes: their farewell to Parks and Recreation and their review of Spy. But the best introduction of all is Peak Glen Wheldon, reviewing the Star Wars: Card Trader app. That’s in the Kimmy Schmidt episode at time 38:27, listen to that one first.

Reply All. Gimlet’s most popular podcast hasn’t quite made my “every episode” cut, but I did catch several of the highlights. I enjoyed Episode 36: Today’s the Day in which PJ and Alex have adventures in New York, and Episode 44: Shine On You Crazy Goldman in which PJ takes acid.

Returning from a year ago:

Chat 10 Looks 3, now one of Australia’s most popular (albeit still lowest production quality) podcasts. Check out Episode 20: Another Thing To Feel Guilty About in which Leigh Sales reveals herself to be a book chucker-outerer and Episode 21: Time For a New Safeword after Malcolm Turnbull became Prime Minister when Sales (one of Australia’s most prominent political interviewers) had previously declared his name to be her safeword.

Slate Money. I still listen to every episode even though I enjoy it a bit less now that they have a guest in most weeks. Check out The Two and 20 Edition for how venture capitalists make money.

2015 in threes

Three moments of 2015.

February 2015: V’s first day of school, calling to get him to pause at the gate for his first day of school picture.

April 2015: sitting in a dark hotel room in San Francisco recovering from AdaCamp in Montreal and travel in general, while Andrew used my power of attorney back in Australia to buy a house. (Yes, after much discussion. Still. It was a weird way to have it done.)

July 2015: lying in bed in a sunny Airbnb room in San Francisco, my first day in town, hot and tired and sweaty from jetlag and mosquitos biting me all night my first night in town. Around 7am Val told me online that she had news that Nóirín had died.

Three meals of 2015

Tapas at MoVida, while the couple perched next to us at the bar had a very awkward first date conversation about themselves and we hoovered up chorizo because one day, there may be no more chorizo. More than the meal I remember the freeing feeling of wandering around after dark, something I do so little of now.

The really quite good sushi I bought several times from Walgreens at 135 Powell St San Francisco. It got me through the dark and tired period of buying the house in the gloom of Hotel Union Square in April; and it got me through my two night stay in San Francisco in October for a job interview. Fatty, slippery, and tasty. Goes down well when you want to hide out in San Francisco with a blanket over your head.

Fish tacos at Verde in Kapaa. The fish of the day is always `ahi or makimaki — and why not have both? Verde is a physically non-descript restaurant, but the tacos are memorable. It became very clear to me that I need to seek out a lot more Mexican food before having an opinion on it.

Three photos of 2015

A vastly inadequate photo of the best sunset I’ve ever seen, over the equator flying from Sydney to Vancouver:


Goodbye to San Francisco, after we shut down the Ada Initiative:


A slightly fun mirror-selfie in Bondi:

Self portrait in Bondi

If you’re after quality rather than feels, have a look at my Bondi to Bronte and Kauaʻi photos

Three pleasures of 2015

“Child piles”: encouraging both my children to flop on top of me. They also like to hug each other. V has got bony but he’s also got a lot more considerate in the last year, so we’re having some great hugs.

Returning to the slopes at Thredbo and not falling down. And the feeling of getting my skis back under me occasionally when I started to lose it. And hot doughnuts after skiing wrapped up each day.

My two visits to Dolores Park in summer and autumn, enjoying sun and grass and sometimes slightly too many people, and nice views of distant fog, and even, one time, a rainbow. I want to go to Northern California with my family someday. Someday!

Three news stories from 2015

Video: Hamilton’s “Wait for It” – Gypsy of the Year 2015

Can you imagine?

The flotillas of the Rohingya. While they were at sea, a friend of mine said that this was what it was like, to know a genocide was going on but not doing anything.

The Prime Ministership change in Australia. I am not a huge fan of the “they’re all the same anyway” analysis; I well recall that argument being made at the last Federal election, referring to a Rudd-led ALP government and an Abbott-led Coalition government. I don’t think Turnbull is here to govern for people I wish he would govern for; I don’t think the change was nothing either.

The entire Syria and ISIS and Middle East and global terror catastrophe, but particularly the Paris and San Bernardino attacks; and France’s frightening response with regards to civil liberties. I don’t feel, from this distance, like the US has responded as intensely after San Bernardino, but after Paris they had less far to fall. And in contrast to many other countries, especially mine: Germany.

Three sensations from 2015

The sea spraying in my face for a half hour standing at the railing on a motor boat between Niʻihau and the Nāpali coast of Kauaʻi, to a degree where my eyes were stinging. Blood was dripping down my ankle from a previous fall on the boat. Nevertheless, it was exhilarating; my happiest moment alone for the year.

Motion sickness as I haul giant floating rafts up five flight of stairs for V at Wet ‘n’ Wild; wishing there were queues there that day so that I could get it to subside between rides.

Some of the first times my daughter has really hurt me: leaning too hard on me, jumping on me, squeezing my fingers tightly. She does this so little still that I get excited about how she’s growing up.

Three sadnesses of 2015

Writing memorials for Nóirín and Telsa.

“Mixed feelings” is the right characterisation of how I felt about shutting down the Ada Initiative but sadness is in the mix. Specifically, I wrote the business case for shutting it down. It was very convincing. Sadly.

Cutting people who’ve died, and people I’m not in touch with, from my Christmas card list. Relatedly, recalling a three-person conversation to which both the other parties have since died.

Three plans for 2016

Work in the technology industry again, in the technical hierarchy. I’ve never stopped coding, and I’ve learned a lot about project management since I last worked in this way (in 2005). Even interviewing for positions has taught me what a different person and employee I am now. Watch this space!

An intermediate run on skis. I’m skiing twice in 2016, this really should be do-able I hope. My long term ambition probably ends at “can ski the bulk of blue runs on Australian mountains”. That’s lots of variety.

Getting to grips with Melbourne, which I will be visiting a lot. My familiarity with Melbourne right now is so low that I got a takeaway coffee there this year and had no idea where people go to sit down anywhere inside the CBD. A place I like to go and sit would be a good start.

Three hopes for 2016

So prosaic, but I would love to get daycare for my daughter in the suburb we’ve moved to, and resume our walking childcare run. It got me outside and moving every day. That’s really really turned out to be something I miss. I guess a broader version of this is integrating into the neighbourhood and suburb more, since we plan to be here a long time. Having V in the local school will help a lot.

Growing my circle of adult friends in Sydney. It is, as always, somewhat more healthy in San Francisco than it is here.

And… the continuing emergence of a persuasive economic reform plan from the left. Basic income and wealth tax experiments!

Feel free to answer my end of year prompts yourself!

Wednesday 30 December 2015

And down came the rain. The storm of early December was slightly exciting fun, standing with an excited baby watching the rain swarms fall in the street light. The storm of the 16th a bit less innocent fun. The forecast was bad and the sky gloomy when I dropped V at school for his very last day of kindy ever; I wasn’t surprised the end of year picnic was cancelled. In fact, if it hadn’t been cancelled, I probably would have put him back in the car and taken him home. But they had a day of games in the school hall instead, which must have been absolute hell on wheels by all objective and right standards, but he reports enjoying it.

Now that Val and I don’t work together we talk on the phone every couple of weeks instead, and that day I decided to walk the Bay Run. As I was down near the bottom of the old hospital I passed a woman walking several dogs in the other direction; one was missing. “Oh well” she said, “the storm will bring them all back.” Sure enough, there it was, visible over the top of Callan Park, distant lightning strikes and all. I said something inane to Val about how most Sydney storms are just fun and it’s only very occasionally that there’s a supercell hell cloud that destroys suburbs, eg, the one on my 18th birthday. Oh yes, very glib Mary. I sent Andrew a message saying I was on my way home.

I got to the top of Callan Park before it started to rain in earnest, and in one of those moments that make me feel at home in my new suburb, my next door neighbour appeared walking her (single) dog and we shared an umbrella for the four blocks home. I shut the windows and then checked for a reply from Andrew, who was worried because of the tornado warning.

… tornado warning, oh. The fiercest parts of the storm all passed well to the east of us; all we got was fifteen minutes of very heavy rain. However, never let me sound blasé about Sydney storms again.

The next day was still and clear and blue and I took V and A out for one of Robert’s BBQs on Scotland Island, which he hasn’t held since I was pregnant with V. V the speed demon loved the water taxi ride. I inadvertantly exposed V to the Hamilton soundtrack while driving, which means he came out with “I am not getting my way: shut up” a few days later. Not the inspirational can-do lyrics Lin-Manuel Miranda was going for, but there being songs an Alexander has marginally helped reconcile him to his sister’s name. (He wants us to change her name to Isobelle on her second birthday.)

On Friday 18th I took V into the city to look at Christmas things; marred by a lot of whinging that he’d rather be going up Centrepoint. After a while I told him to stop complaining and he thought about it, did so, and forbore pointing out his lack of complaining until we got home after lunch. I was very impressed! We rode the ferris wheel at Darling Harbour, and looked at the Christmas trees in the QVB and Martin Place, walking most of the way. After we got home we went to the Google children’s Christmas party. I think after another year V will be too old for it, with Wiggles music and balloon animals galore. It seemed like a great party for a three and a half year old, somewhere around the average of my two children. But V was into it this year, winning double prize for cutting loose on the dance floor.

We headed to the Leichhardt carols on Sunday 20th. I like the size of the event; a few thousands of people rather than tens of thousands in the domain. I like going to the same thing every year too, marking off the memories as time passes. Two years ago I went to it ridiculously heavily pregnant. The choir director was about equally pregnant as I recall, and I hope vastly less tired. I took V on my own last year, one of the first evenings I’d ever spent away from A. Next year when we go, she’ll be talking about Christmas.

We spent Christmas with my parents, the first time in four years, since two years ago I was four days overdue with A and expected to go into labour any minute. (… any… minute… now…) Four years ago V was nearly two, and had a present throughout the present-opening, overwhelmed with the attention. This time he could read well enough to hand out the presents with some help, and had a good time. We gave him some pool toys; disks to skip along the surface of water, which are in theory aimed at a target and which I didn’t think would enable a very full-on pool fight later in the day while I gently surfed A around its edges. Lesson learned; supply not the weaponry Christmas morn.

The drive back on Sunday night left me unexpectedly tired; I have a cold and ended up spending Monday and Tuesday in bed. The plan is to work up to Wet ‘n’ Wild by the end of the week. We can only hope.

Thursday 10 December 2015

For the first four years of parenting, I had a lot of weeks alone with V while Andrew did work trips at the rate of four to six weeks a year. This year I compressed maybe a year and a half’s worth of revenge into seven months: two weeks away in April, two weeks in August, two and a half weeks in October albeit with the penance of flying back to Australia to spend six nights here in between trips.

Which means I feel all grumpy about this week with three nights of after-work socialising built in for him. Do you know how boring it is to do evenings alone with the kids Andrew? Do you? Do you? Oh, yeah, I guess you do. Huh.

Last night was a break in the routine of pick up kids, feed, bathe, bed, sulk, go to bed myself, because Andrew came home and we put up our decal Christmas tree. I am super proud of myself for joining the 2010s and buying it on Etsy rather than choosing between Kmart and my own dubious crafting skills and energy. The downside was putting up a decal with a 5yo, which was slow work. The upside is that we were all pleased with the result. The other upside was the awful humidity suddenly breaking with a thunderstorm that was just this side of the “how exciting” vs “I hope we will keep our roof” line, as all the best Sydney thunderstorms are. V got so excited and overwhelmed he started running in circles. A was evidently a bit puzzled about how this rain, drops arriving in swarms, was the same as normal rain that gently tickles her from the sky.

Thursday 26 November 2015

My main goal in being unemployed right now is to not launch entire new projects or businesses and so far I’m being very successful in restricting myself to a zine and maybe a eventually forthcoming short series of podcasts. But the zine — a very small run for a group of friends — was fun and not very hard. I like this trend of fun and not very hard. Next in fun and not very hard is my Christmas cards.

Zero businesses launched and not counting!

We’re building up to Australia’s all-in summer, compressing what the US, say, has to spend three periods (Thanksgiving, Christmas/late December, and their summer) on into six weeks beginning mid-December. We finally made it to Wet’n’Wild for the first time this summer. We picked a grey mild day for it, which was a good decision in most respects but it turns out there’s a downside to smaller crowds. Andrew took A home after a few hours to nap, and I discovered that no queuing means riding waterslides over and over and over and over, which means getting motion sick. Especially since Wet’n’Wild, in the parent-child scenario, makes the parent ride the raft facing backwards. But once I convinced a sceptical V to give me a break on the relentless stair climbing, raft-hauling, and being ill on slides, I had more fun. Wet’n’Wild is a two parent experience for sure. Liking speed and getting motion sick is my curse.

For better or for worse I’ve reached the age where my expat friends don’t come home for summer any more. So in the next few weeks we merely have a trip to my family, an extended family gathering, a friend’s annual houseparty, birthday drinks, the Google party for children, and carols. Also, hoping to squeeze a few beach trips in there. We are also rushing up on V’s last weeks at his current school, with three weeks to go yesterday. He is fortunately fairly excited if anything to go to a new, larger, school with children whom he knows from the neighbourhood. I still feel bad that he also won’t get the experience I longed for, of going to the same damn school for the whole primary years. A big part of my attraction to buying a house — in Sydney! — was to have access to that for them, so fingers crossed from here on in.

Thursday 5 November 2015

It turns out to be hard to write about what you’re doing when a big part of what you are doing is looking for work. But I can say that I set a new family record for short intercontinental trips. Little did we think Andrew’s three nights in Japan last year would be improved upon within the year, but I spent two nights in San Francisco in October. And a night on each side flying diagonally across the Pacific Ocean, of course.

I didn’t especially want to be back in San Francisco so soon after August; San Francisco’s still dust and ashes and those nights I spent pacing up and down Valencia Street completely insomniac. I certainly didn’t want to be there for about 50 hours ex Sydney. I feel like I’ve just about worked out long haul flights after all this time with a combination of pop music, fluffy books, podcasts, and very unchallenging movies. Even so. The natural state of the quite pair-bonded mother is not spending 15 hours at a time incommunicado, twice in four days.

Andrew took the week after that off to spend staycationing with me, the highlight of which was the Bondi to Bronte walk which I’ve never done in full before (only Bondi to Tamarama). Sydney has had a stormy spring and we finished it up in the rain; luckily my favourite kind of weather.

I was back to Sydney for all of five nights before blowing all my mothering credentials entirely out of the water by heading back to the USA — Hawaii — for a long-planned holiday with friends, sans husband and children. Well, I wouldn’t have gone back to Australia in between at all if it weren’t for my kids, but I also could have chosen to stay there once I got there and not gone gallivanting. I was strongly tempted to take A along but couldn’t face the 10 hour flight with her each way. She seems to have recovered quite well other than tending to yell when I leave the room, and constantly dragging a wheelie bag around saying “bye bye” to everyone.

The highlight of Hawaii was also its lowlight: riding the side of a motor boat for an hour with salt spray in my face. The lowlight was the setup: I was just standing up with the crew’s help to go to the side when the boat slammed into the water and I shot into the air and cut my foot on the floor of the boat. It was a shallow cut though, and blood and salt for the next couple of hours. I snorkelled several times, but that had the usual effect of just vividly reminding me how great SCUBA is. Some day I will go to the Big Island and dive and see the lava. At the same time in the unlikely event that’s a thing people do. I read Rainbow Rowell’s amazing Carry On when I should have been resting up for snorkeling adventures. I got so wound up I ended up roaming around on the lawns of the resort in the middle of the night, locked out of the room. I ate a lot of ahi and mahimahi. In Mexican dishes. I didn’t hear a single song on the radio released in a year beginning with 2. It was a good holiday.

I’m back in Sydney until at least the end of the year now. I am not sure what I am going to fill the time with. That is a great luxury and I intent to enjoy it.