All my custom emoji secrets, revealed

I’m known in a few Slacks as the emoji whisperer for adding obviously necessary yet inexplicably absent emoji.

Sometimes, as in the case of the nopetopus and the WTF cake, a certain amount of time in Inkscape is going to be necessary, but I’d say that I whisper around ⅔ of my emoji via downloading images just two websites, and what’s more you can too! (It’s just that easy!)

Emojipedia contains existing and, importantly, upcoming and proposed Unicode emoji. I used it to get hold of unauthorised pre-approval user-beware emoji for avocado, duck, and fingers crossed.

openclipart contains whatever people want it to contain. Aside from providing sources for many of the puzzlemoji, I’ve recently found good witch and wizard hats there. Most of the images can’t be shrunk to 128px and still be made out, but there’s enough that can to make the search worth it.

Learning more about a remote working position

I’m in the process of wrapping up a long period of working remotely at least part-time from home, beginning in 2006 when I enrolled in a PhD program and continuing through my time at the Ada Initiative and at Stripe to this year.

My take on working remotely in future is really “it depends on the details” (and likely different details for different organizations). To that end, I contributed some suggested questions you could ask to Hypothesis’s Working remotely guide, which they’ve incorporated in a slightly edited form. Here’s my original questions; I’ve also added a few more at my end after some feedback from Andrew (himself a veteran of around seven years of remote work).


Before you start working remotely at a new organization, you should explore how they structure remote working and if there are any expectations mismatches between you and the organization. A particular remote job may or may not be a match for a particular remote worker.

Important: I don’t think there is any one right answer to any of these questions. It’s a question of fit between your working style, the position itself, and the relationship of the position to the rest of the organization. But the answers are worth knowing so that you can evaluate your fit and make plans for effective remote working.

Sources of information

This entry has a lot of questions, too many for a “do you have any questions?” section of an interview. But you can use other sources of information to get most answers, especially about organization-wide questions:

  • the job description, and descriptions of similar roles
  • the organization’s website, particularly the About and Careers pages
  • the section of the employee handbook dealing with remote work
  • the LinkedIn pages or websites of your future manager and colleagues
  • longer, separate, conversations with your recruiter or hiring manager
  • your offer conversation or letter, or your contract

Some questions you also may only need to ask if you hear of concrete plans to make a change to the organization (eg, you learn that a new office is about to open near you).


How are you remote and who are you remote from? This post is using ‘remote’ to mean something like “most days, you are not in face to face contact with any colleagues.” But you should be aware of the details: will you be working without in person contact with teammates or with the wider organization almost all of the time? Do you have any colleagues in your team or your wider organization in your city or region, or who regularly visit? Will you work on any joint projects with them? Will you be able or be expected to sometimes work with them in person even if there’s not a permanent office space?

Separately, is in-person contact with vendors or customers part of the job?

Is your immediate team remote? Is your manager remote? Being a remote member of a team that is all working remotely from each other is different from a team which is mostly located in an office with each other. Likewise, being managed by someone who is in an office has some potential advantages (for example, access to information circulating through verbal grapevines, being able to access answers from colleagues for you quickly), as does being managed by someone who is themselves remote (a direct appreciation for experiences specific to remote workers, a personal interest in advocating for them).

How many remote workers are there at the rest of the organization? What percentage of teams you will work closely with are working remotely, and what percentage of employees overall are working remotely? Working as one of very few remote workers for an organization where most employees are in an office together is different from a mostly or entirely remote-working organization.

What’s the future of remote work at the organization? If the organization is mostly or entirely remote, are there any plans to change that? If the organization is mostly office-based, are there any plans to change that? If an office is likely to be founded in your city or region soon, will you be able or be expected to work from it?

You may be considering a job on the understanding that the remote work will be of very short duration (eg, an office is opening in your city in two months time). Is there any chance the time will be longer, and are you OK with that?

What is your manager’s approach to remote workers? How frequently will they speak with you and through what media? Will they expect you to travel to them? Will they sometimes travel to you? Have they managed remote workers before?

How long have there been remote workers for? Is the organization new to having remote workers or has it had remote workers for a long time and bedded down a remote working style?

What is the remote working culture like? Is most collaboration over email, text chat, phone, video conf, or some other means? Are there watercooler-equivalents like social IRC channels or video chats? How active are they? Are remote workers mainly working from home or from co-working spaces? Are there occasional team gatherings for remote workers to meet colleagues in person and are they optional or compulsory?

How flexible are the hours? Not all remote work has flexible hours; you may have mandated work hours, or core hours, or shifts, as in any other role.

Are the remote workers spread across multiple timezones? If so, are your team and closest collagues in your timezone or another one? Are you expected to adapt your working hours to overlap better with your colleagues? How are meetings and other commitments scheduled across timezones? Do they rotate through timezones or are they always held in a certain timezone? Are you ever expected to attend meetings well outside your working hours, and if so, how often is this expected and do your colleagues in other timezones face the same expectations?

What are the benefits for remote workers? Will the organization reimburse any of your remote working expenses, such as membership of a co-working space, home office furniture, or your home Internet connection costs? If you’re working in a different country from most of your colleagues, will you get equivalent benefits to your colleagues (eg, health insurance coverage)?

What are the travel expectations for remote workers? Are you expected to travel to headquarters or other offices or customers, and if so, how often and for how long? What are the travel policies and allowances for remote workers? How do these travel expectations compare to those of non-remote colleagues?

Sometimes you will be remote from an organization with an office or even headquarters in the same city as you. Will you be able or expected to visit the office? How often? Will there be resources for you (eg, hot desks, meal provisioning)?

What are the career progression possibilities for remote workers? As a remote worker in a partly non-remote organization, could you move into more senior positions over time, such as team leader, middle manager, or executive? Could you move into other teams in the organization, and if so, which ones? Are there some roles that are closed to remote workers? Match these answers to your own career goals.

What’s the training process like? Must you or can you spend a period of time in an office or visiting a colleague for training? Must you or can you do your training remotely using documentation, videos and similar? Will a trainer or colleague have some time assigned to remotely train you?

Is there support for first-time remote workers? If you haven’t worked remotely before, will the organization support you in learning how to work remotely, and if so, how?

See also

A very partial list of resources, focussing on individual remote workers and their experiences and strategies:

Creative Commons License
Learning more about a remote working position by Mary Gardiner is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

How to tell if you are in an October Daye novel

In the style of The Toast‘s How To Tell If You’re In a Novel series, I present a How to Tell for Seanan McGuire’s ongoing October Daye novels (spoilers through to the end of book 9).

You love and grieve for your estranged teenage daughter enormously, enough to mention her in passing periodically.

Your mother is so beautiful that those looking her directly literally risk heart failure. Almost every man you know is in love with her, except for the ones who are in love with you.

One of your best friends has staked first claim on being the one who kills you. Bringing her donuts often smooths things over though.

Your loving and infinitely patient and giving substitute father figure is probably a small-minded villain. However, his identical twin brother, who arranged the years-long torture of his sister-in-law and his young niece, may be redeemable.

Most men you know are either royalty or royalty-in-hiding.

Everyone sufficiently important smells of roses.

Your cats are known spies for the monarch of a kingdom unanswerable to you or your allies. This does not significantly alter your opinion of them. Or of him for that matter.

You got your blood on the carpet again. And on your clothes. And on the walls. And on your enemies, woe betide them.

One of the major relationship issues you and your friends worry about is having a lover who needs to sleep at night-time.

You’re getting a bit tired of everyone harping on about how you have overthrown two monarchs and that you also killed a man that one time.

You like to get high so much that you sometimes alter your biology for an optimal experience.

Teenage boys look up to you and never ever rebel against you.

You drink people’s blood in order to enter their dreams and strip them of half of who they are. They are usually pretty OK about this. You’re somewhat surprised when they aren’t.

You own the knife of a teenage girl who died thinking of you as her hero, and you live with a housemate who ate her soul and later went on to assume your face and memories too. You get on great and think of each other as sisters. It’s somehow clear to everyone that you get to keep the knife.

Prejudice against people who have an animal form or characteristics is deeply disgusting to you, but you know for sure that certain lineages of magic should never ever interbreed. You’re becoming a bit ambivalent about folks with recent ancestors from the plant kingdom too.

You aren’t the species your mother always told you you were. Your friend the part-time cat would have told you this, but he didn’t think you’d believe him.

You ultimately answer to Canada.

Saturday July 2 2016

It’s been an exasperating old time lately between V being in a wheelchair, getting a flat tyre on my way to the pool alone with A, Andrew being in Zürich for a week, among several other things. Much like parenting, it’s one of those things that’s turned out to be exactly as hard as it sounds. It sounds very hard to need to push a wheelchair around while also regularly carrying a child who is at the “sometimes walks, sometimes tantrums” stage. It sounds very hard to do one of our five distinct school/daycare runs over the course of a week while allowing for carrying a child and pushing a wheelchair one-handed. It sounds very painful to do those when my day is weighted towards being available in US time (ie, to be at work as early as possible in the morning). Yeah well, it sounds that hard because it is that hard.

There’s nothing like a federal election to get Andrew out of the country, either. We were figuring out the other day that of the seven elections he’s been able to vote in, he’s spent three of them out of the country, and a further two out of electorate. So I headed to V’s school to vote with both kids grumpily and screamily in tow and largely missed out on the warm Australian glow of a cake stall and a sausage sizzle outside the polling booth. I’d appreciate a wheelchair accessible school a bit more, or at least them unlocking the gate that doesn’t have steps. V’s after school care also won’t open it. (“We only have permission from the school to use the worst possible gate!”) The Australian self-image of sunny polling places with cakes and sausages covers up a fair bit of darkness and very high stakes, but at the same time, in 2016, I do feel like elections that take themselves a bit less seriously than world-historically intense is a welcome relief.

I’m not intending to watch the returns, I’m not sure that I’ve ever avoided them, but I’ve also never spent an election night alone. Andrew has done little enough work travel over the last two or so years (I suppose since around when A was born) that I haven’t figured out a good system for spending time with adult company while he’s away. I’ve left him with the kids more often but he has a workplace full of adult company and I don’t. It’s a lonely time and this time it’s only eight nights. I appreciated today being something of a break in a run of very cold weather and even wrestled the kids to the park in the afternoon (it’s under a kilometre but the wheel and tantrum combo meant I had to drive there). Looking forward to seeing Andrew, and seeing more of the outside, very soon.

fan merinos; or how to have a little fun searching logs

At an engineering training with Greg Sabo in my first week at Stripe, he showed a cute trick: using a shell command to generate two random words when testing.

For example, every time I reconfigure my mail server, I send a distressing number of emails in this style:

echo "Testing" | mail -s "Mary Test 1" mary
echo "Testing" | mail -s "Mary Test 2" mary
echo "Testing" | mail -s "Mary Test 3" mary

(I usually lose count around Test 4, for the record.)

Likewise, in testing the Stripe create charges API function, one might run this from the documentation:

curl \
-u sk_test_BQokikJOvBiI2HlWgH4olfQ2: \
-d amount=400 \
-d currency=usd \
-d source=tok_189fCj2eZvKYlo2CjCzCPbk5 \
-d description="Charge for"

Wouldn’t those be both more fun and somewhat easier to find in mailboxes, logs and dashboards as, say, Mary test fan merinos and Charge for cellular ascendents respectively? It would be! Thanks Greg!

Implementation-wise, on very recent Ubuntu, the trick is to add something to your bash profile along the times of:

rw () {
cat /usr/share/dict/words | grep -v "'" | grep -v "[A-Z]" | shuf -n 2 | xargs echo

Background: shuf is a command that behaves like head and tail, only it returns a selected number random lines. I’m filtering out single quotes (grep -v "'") in its input so as to not unduly annoy xargs, and filtering capital letters (grep -v "[A-Z]") as a proxy for filtering out proper names.

From there:
$ rw
newscaster mucky
$ echo Mary test $(rw)
Mary test equitable rough

For systems without shuf installed, there’s a lot of potential solutions to shuffling a text file at Stack Overflow, this answer has a great roundup.

As a note of caution, you don’t want to run rw live in front of other people or send them the output unchecked; a random selection of 2 English words has some reasonable chance of being disgusting, offensive, strange, inappropriate, etc. Generate some memorable phrases privately in advance!

Slightly related: xkcd: Password strength.

Change the number of words

Added 28 Sep 2016

A slightly improved version of rw that allows a variable number of words to be returned, defaulting to 2:

rw () {
  if [ -z "$NUM" ]
  cat /usr/share/dict/words | grep -v "'" | grep -v "[A-Z]" | shuf -n $NUM | xargs echo

$ rw
reverberations drumming
$ rw 1
$ rw 7
protections proving unfortunately blubbered uninstallers pitchmen locality

Sunday May 15 2016

Truly it is a year of changes; I’m growing my hair long again. It’s shoulder length now, past my chin for the first time since 2002 or 2003. It’s very strange to have an extra bit of me that I catch sight of spread out over a pillow or shifting in the corner of my eye. I tied it back yesterday and A was distressed: “Mama hair-ya? Mama hair-ya?” I haven’t decided where to stop yet; I thought shoulder length but it’s too short to braid yet, and braiding would go more easily with all the hats I wear. So perhaps my shoulder blades. It used to be nearly waist-length before I had it cut short, more because I lacked the money for hairdressers than because of an active choice. Likewise, part of my resistance to wearing it long since has been that I used to spend an hour every couple of days combing it out after washing, but it occurs to me that I also lacked the money for good conditioners at the time.

Truly it is a year of everything proceeding exactly as foreseen; I just returned from two weeks in San Francisco. Last time I missed V’s birthday, this time I missed both my wedding anniversary and Mother’s Day. It’s partly unfortunate that every significant anniversary in our family occurs between January and early May; it’s partly that I travel too much. In the last thirteen months, I have spent ten weeks in the United States. I never imagined that something I’d have to do as an adult was get our international work travel under control, but Andrew travelled around four weeks a year for six or seven years, and as his has slowed down to two to three weeks a year, mine has ballooned to replace it. I hope that getting it down to four weeks a year is reasonable; it may mean facing doing single week trips, which I loathe because of the proportion of time spent in the plane, but which is always how Andrew has dealt with it.

Parts of San Francisco are something like home now. I can walk around the Mission and never mix up north and south. I know which Walgreens to go to to get reasonable emergency sushi late at night. I have a Clipper card. I walk around and around Dolores Park if I have no plans for the evening. I can sometimes pick the meeting spot for friends. I want to move there much less than I used to though; I think because I don’t have any desire to be single or childless, and in San Francisco I am always single and childless. And because, of the tough times I’ve had in the last 18 months, most of them have involved being alone, uncomfortable, jetlagged, and grieving, in a room in San Francisco.

Getting home is always a shock to the system though. Especially children’s TV. I’d love to be one of those parents who write that they parent in the moment and never look forward in time, but a day is coming when I will never hear the squeakety squeak of adults voicing child characters on children’s TV ever again, and I cannot wait for that day.

Likewise a day is coming when A does not take a lengthy middle of the day nap any more, and we don’t have to plan our day out in two halves with a three hour stay at home across lunch and that too will be a grand day. Yesterday we did our annual walk around Clarkes Point Reserve where we were married — we’ve never been there at sunset before, two separate sunset weddings were happening — and ended up at the Woolwich Pier Hotel too early for dinner, and all I could think about was next year, next year. In May next year, A will be nearly 3½. Next year she won’t be taking a midday nap every day. She will walk reasonable distances on her own and we won’t have to carry her down and up that hill. We will be able to have simple conversations about the future and the past. And unlike the last time I had a 3 year old child, all that freedom won’t be spoiled by being pregnant and tired and slow. Next year I am done with parenting toddlers.

Next year is our tenth wedding anniversary, too, and probably Andrew and I will go away for the weekend by ourselves. But we’ll keep visiting Clarkes Point Reserve with the kids, I hope. I like having a number of traditions to follow through the year. Dinner with Andrew March-ish to celebrate our mutual birthdays. Eurovision, tonight as it happens. Snow sports. Carols in Leichhardt, before we know it. Counting down time and building it up. Without toddlers.

✨ puzzlemoji ✨ WTF cake, nopetopus, ban Australia, and more!

The advent of the Slack chat program and its custom emoji and reactji has inspired me to break out Inkscape a number of times, usually mightily assisted by Open Clip Art artists, to express sentiments not yet captured by the Unicode consortium, such as NOPE or BAN AUSTRALIA.

Some of my emoji are already leaking out into the Slackerverse; it’s time to set them all free, and spread the nopetopus and no fucks far and wide! Get your puzzlemoji from the Gitlab repository or download them directly from this page.

All these emoji are public domain (I’d love to see you work out how to credit them inline), but I appreciate a shoutout where possible. In turn, credits for images I adapted can be found in “More information” links.


Let’s face it, banning Australia is the least you can do, ban early and often.


When you’re feeling the need to distance yourself from your own brain, the radical action of prohibiting it may help.


Inspired by the Look At All The Fucks I Give images, communicate your entire lack of fucks:

:nope: :nopetopus:

Nothing says NOPE like the nopetopus popularised (created?) by lauralex on Tumblr. For when even a cephalopod cannot be having with this nonsense:


One of my most undeservedly praised emoji in terms of how much I adapted the source material! :trashfire: involved taking this image and removing several objects from it. Voilà!

:uterus: :banuterus:

There are all kinds of reasons to want to uterise your chat, both positively and negatively. The extreme ends of attitudes to uteruses can now be expressed in reactji:

:wtf: :wtfcake:

The best way to express What The Fuck sentiments is obviously and forever via baking a WTF cake (hat tip Selena Deckelmann). Now in nommable emoji form!

Other puzzlemoji

Lots of banning remains to you:

Tech interviews, too much homework, and the motherhood question

There’s a fascinating discussion around technical interviews recently; would both candidate experience and hiring signal be improved by revising the current round of (basically Google-inspired) non-runnable algorithm-centric coding examples completed under time pressure?

I’ve been following Thomas Ptacek’s tweets about it for a few months, for example:

Then last week Julia Grace wrote A Walkthrough Guide to Finding an Engineering Job at Slack:

We’ve put a great deal of effort into designing our interview process so that it is comprehensive and consistent, and are working hard to remove as many points of bias as possible. To date we’ve found it successfully identifies people who will succeed here — those with a high degree of technical competence who also embody Slack’s values: empathy, courtesy, craftsmanship, solidarity, playfulness, and thriving[…]

We’d like to get an idea of how you write code in the real world, since we feel this is the best indicator of how you’d write code day to day here at Slack. Granted, the Slack codebase is larger and more complicated than any technical exercise, but we have found the technical exercise to be a good indicator of future performance on the job. There are great engineers at big name companies and at small ones, so this gives everyone a chance to shine independent of where they are now.

This varies by position, but generally you’ll have a week to complete a technical exercise and submit the code and working solution back to us.

Uncritical praise of take home exams started to ring alarm bells for me. I recall take home exams from university; one of my majors was philosophy, which tended to assign a long essay (eg, 4000 words) to be completed over 6 weeks or so, and a take-home exam (eg, 2 essays of 1000–2000 words) to be completed with a four day deadline. I moved out of a rural town to go to university and lived on my own. From age 19, I also financially supported myself. I loathed take home exams, because I was competing with people who would get the exam, go home, and work on it all week in the house they lived in with their parents. No job. No housework. (Admittedly, no self-imposed decision to take 125% of a normal course load every year for four years of university either, that one was on me.)

And that was before I had two children. I’m not at all excited about tech interviews moving to a model where I’m doing a huge amount of work in my own time, because I do not have a huge amount of free time. Anecdotally, I have already heard of people spending in excess of 20 hours on Slack’s coding exercise. Freeing 20 hours in a week is a non-starter for me, especially if I’m not a clear finalist for the job. Slack is administering these take home assignments prior to on-site interviews, and is a very sought after workplace; it’s quite possible their process will be widely copied and people will regularly be doing a couple of days of coding before in-person interviews, for many many jobs.

To be fair, I have also read through Steve Yegge’s Get that job at Google and estimate that, at my current levels of free time, it would probably take me a couple of years to complete the preparation he recommends. (I have an undergraduate degree in computer science and mathematics — the philosophy major was a separate degree — and a PhD in computing, but at this distance I am far from passing an exam in discrete maths.) But I also wouldn’t be required to submit work samples proving I’d spent that time.

I am also aware that other positions require extensive preparatory work for job interviews for senior candidates, such as preparing sample budgets or strategy presentations or similar, but it’s at least more common only to give such large amounts of work to later-stage candidates for the position.

Let’s not get uncritically excited about adding (yet another!) screen for “isn’t a mother of young children”. I am thrilled that Camille Fournier has made several similar points in Thoughts on Take Home Interviews (also available on her blog):

On twitter, a discussion ensued about whether asking people to spend time at home doing exercises didn’t itself cause bias, against those who did not have a lot of spare time to be doing take-home exercises. Julia mentioned that they expect it to take 2–4 hours, but admitted that some people got really into the project and spent far longer than that[…]

The creative take-home also seems likely to select for those with free time, because if it is really an exercise that some people want to overdo, they will overdo it and you will have a hard time not rewarding that enthusiasm (why shouldn’t you!). And while it’s ok to ask for a few hours, building something that rewards those who can spend far longer is likely to bias against those who have, say, kids to take care of after work and on weekends, or other activities that limit their free time.

Gaëtan Voyer-Perraul also notes in a reply:

If this thing catches on, then it’s going to become a gating mechanism for every developer job in existence. New grads will be faced with hundreds of hours of “take-home” work that goes into the same black hole as their resumés.

Also worth a read: Rod Begbie gives a postmortem of a take-home interview question he used to administer.

I’m excited about revising the technical interviewing process, which will require both experimentation and evidence. While experimenting, and as the tech industry actively seeks candidates from under-represented backgrounds, the ability of candidates to interview with your organisation without tens of hours of free time for take-homes in addition to time for on-site interviews should be a core design principle for your interview process.

What should I do in Sydney?

Leigh advises if you tell a story three times, blog it. My version is “if you give advice three times…” I tend to assume that Sydney advice is fairly easy to find for visitors, but sometimes it’s better from someone you know! I’ve given advice to three separate first-time travellers to Sydney in two months, and am accordingly freeing it for you, my reading audience.

The Harbour Bridge and Opera House viewed from the north east
Sydney at night by Nigel Howe

What sort of advice is this anyway?

I’ve lived in Sydney for 17 years this year, my entire adult life. My Sydney biases: I like walking and exploring ourdoors. I like things that can be done during the day and ideally that you can take children to. I like dining out including fine dining. I’ve spent the vast bulk of my time in Sydney living without a car and tend to recommend things accessible via public transport.

There are some things I can’t help you with: I’ve never spent much time in pubs and clubs and in any case I’ve had children for more than six years so my already limited partying knowledge is pretty well atrophied now. I’m also not a serious outdoor sports person: I know you can kayak and ocean swim in Sydney but I can’t tell you where or how better than the Internet can.

Where to stay

Unless you have some reason to stay in some particular part of Sydney, stay near Circular Quay or Wynyard train stations for access to the most public transport. If you’re visiting almost entirely for the beaches, stay in Bondi or Manly.

What to do

Walk from Circular Quay past (or into) the Opera House and through the Botanical Gardens. The Opera House has performances in many genres if opera isn’t your thing.

Catch the ferry from Circular Quay to Manly. The ferry trip alone is worth it; it is one of the longer ones and you will see much of the eastern harbour. Manly is a beach suburb; you can swim at a harbour or ocean or sheltered ocean beach, do the Manly to Fairlight penguin walk or go to the aquarium.

Catch the ferry from Circular Quay to Cockatoo Island. Cockatoo Island used to be a island-sized shipyard and is now an island-sized museum of ex-shipyarding. You can ramble through giant sheds and along catwalks and so on. There’s on-island camping and glamping, the only harbour island that allows overnight stays. If an island picnic is more your thing, there are also private ferries from Circular Quay to Shark Island, which is more like a large park.

Shed interior, Cockatoo Island
Cockatoo Island by Chris Marchant, edited by Mary Gardiner

Visit the Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour. Their permanent exhibits include decommissioned naval vessels and a submarine. Have a look at the current exhibits at the Powerhouse Museum for science and technology possibilities.

Head to the beach. As above, Manly is a good choice, and in the eastern suburbs Bondi is famous and has fairly good transport. It’s also a starting point for the beautiful Bondi to Bronte coastal walk. Coogee is the beach with perhaps the next best transport options. Clovelly is a long inlet and thus very calm. Most beaches, including Bondi, Coogee, and Manly have an ocean bath – a pool filled with seawater – if you’re not up for swimming in the ocean.

Swimmer in Coogee ocean bath
Swimmer in Coogee ocean bath by Tim Gillin, edited by Mary Gardiner

The art gallery I like best is the Museum of Contemporary Art right at Circular Quay. The huge mural at the entrance is re-commissioned and painted over once a year or so, so look at the current one whenever you go. The cafe at the top has an excellent view.

I’m not done with ferries yet, you can also catch Circular Quay ferries to Luna Park, a harbourside amusement park, and to Taronga Zoo, Sydney’s best known zoo. The Gunner’s Barracks in the vicinity of the zoo is a great ramble but harder to reach from the south side of the harbour.

Luna Park ferris wheel framed against the Harbour Bridge
Luna Park,by Simon Clancy, edits by Mary Gardiner

Great walks include the Bondi to Bronte walk mentioned above, the Glebe foreshore walk and the Harbour Bridge to Manly walk (or the Spit Bridge to Manly half depending on your walking distance and available time).

The water park Wet n Wild may be more of an acquired taste, but I keep wanting to take visitors there. You don’t need to be an especially strong swimmer but a love of rollercoasters might help.

Seasonal things to look out for include the yearly Sydney Festival and Vivid festivals in summer and winter respectively. Vivid includes large light installations around the harbour and other parts of the city. There’s Sculpture By the Sea exhibits on the Bondi to Bronte walk in spring. The film festival is in June and the comedy festival in April and May.

The Museum of Contemporary Art covered in a red snake pattern
Museum of Contemporary Art lit for Vivid by MD111, edits by Mary Gardiner, CC BY-SA. Light show inspired by Jess Johnson, artist unknown.

Where to eat

Fine dining is often in flux, check recent restaurant reviews. The Boathouse at Glebe is the closest to a regular we have; it specialises in seafood. Cafe Sydney is my preferred place with a view.

For cafes and gastro pub-style eating, head to Surry Hills; bills is the best known cafe. Haymarket is the centre of Chinese food, and the other side of George Street has some great Thai places including Chat Thai.

If despite my protestations of ignorance someone insisted I choose the bar, for visitors I’d go with the Opera Bar on the lower level of the approach to the Opera House, or try out Blu Bar at the top of the Shangri-La if everyone was willing to primp for it. If your motivation is cocktails alone, the Different Drummer in Glebe is good.

Out of town

The Blue Mountains to the west are reachable as a day trip on public transport; head to Katoomba and to the Echo Point lookout.

Jervis Bay to the south is a good weekend away; you’ll likely want to drive. If you want to do some kayaking without having to deal with the boat traffic in Sydney Harbour this and several other places on the coast are good alternatives.

Image credits

Sydney by Nigel Howe.

Cockatoo Island, Sydney by Chris Marchant, cropped and colour adjusted by Mary Gardiner.

Coogee beach, Sydney pool by Tim Gillin, rotated, cropped and colour adjusted by Mary Gardiner.

Luna Park Sydney by Simon Clancy, cropped and colour adjusted by Mary Gardiner.

Vivid Sydney 2014 by MD111, rotated cropped and colour adjusted by Mary Gardiner, availabe as Creative Commons Attribution-Sharealike. The Museum of Contemporary Art light show in 2014 was inspired by artist Jess Johnson, but artist unknown and copyright presumably all rights reserved.