Monday, 3 October 2016

Football In Cider

There's a new blog in town!

Football In Cider

It seems to be betting Dumplings on football matches from around the world. I wonder why?

Actually, it's my new blog. I'm resurrecting an old computer program I wrote to predict football matches. I thought I might see if I can get a result, pun intended.

It's early days, but the plan is to have a dam good crack at predicting a football match by using all the free information from the internet. I'll keep you posted!

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Crucial Conversations

Crucial Conversations

I recently read a book called crucial conversations

This was the first time I realised I could use a simple strategy in conversations to get results. 

I loved it. 

The impact was immediate. My confidence grew overnight. What were once locked up frustrations quickly became excellent ideas resulting in pats on the back. The positive changes were at work and at home.

This book is a must read for everyone. 

I mentioned all this to a friend at work. He asked me to present my enthusiasm at one of our xTalks. xTalk is our company equiavelent to TED talks. I was flattered and obviously took him up on the offer.

In the talk I used freemind (a mind map tool) and Visual Studio Workflow to help demonstrate how the book's strategies helps with the dynamics of a crucial conversation.

I hope you enjoy it!

The cover of the book Crucial Conversations
p.s. I have no commercial interest in the book btw, but I must credit the authors and the training company that helps people worldwide to use this invaluable skills. Check out their web site here

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Metropolitan Division Toastmasters 2015-2016 Conference

Today was my first Division Toastmasters Conference. I had no idea what to expect. If I am truly honest I hadn't really thought about it too much. I wasn't competing. I wasn't helping. I was simply going because life has taught me to say "Yes" before engaging brain. A practice that has resulted in so much fun, and today proved to be up there with the best of them!

Metropolitan 2015 2016 Division Toastmasters Conference
Metropolitan 2015 2016 Division Toastmasters Conference
An 8:30 am start on a Saturday morning made me rethink my life lessons. Fortunately for my brain I only had to be there physically and not cognitively. Others will testify, my brain was still fast asleep on arrival, blissfully unaware I had scheduled in a serious conversation about adding a 'Get Out' clause for any activity beginning before noon on a weekend.

A conversation that was quickly kicked off the agenda by the big mighty boots of our friends Inspiration, Courage and Wisdom. Where else can you get so close to so many amazingly skilled people who face fear in the eye, stand up as tall as a poppy and put their hearts and souls on the line for all of us to do with as we please? In return, we, the collective audience of so many wonderful individuals, put out our caring, helping hands to support and nurture everyone and anyone. Inspiration. Courage. Wisdom! 

Having just read the book Crucial Conversations, which declares 9 out of 10 issues in your life at home or at work can be resolved by a crucial conversation, I was all the more aware of the challenges, choices & courage everyone was willingly putting themselves up against in order to better themselves. I take my hat off to you all.

By learning to listen & speak to one or many people with thought, skill and patience we can all get better at achieving our desired results in life. It's as simple as that. I haven't met anyone who still doesn't have a lot to learn. I have however, at today's wonderful Conference met many good people who are putting their everything to do exactly this. People who want to be better leaders, better spouses, better business people, better volunteers. Being better at communicating under pressure is the best thing anyone can to do to be better at everything else.

I spent from 8:30 am until 5 pm listening to speeches on a Saturday. Let's be honest, on paper this appears painful, mundane and something to avoid at all costs! How so very wrong paper can be! The day was inspiring, educating & rewarding.

Towards the end of the day I found myself wondering why every man and his dog wasn't queuing to be in attendance.  Not just to the Conference, but to Toastmasters in general. It costs me $55 every 6 months, plus $5 each time I attend. For this I get skilled help, support and all the positive encouragement I need to overcome some very personal challenges. I get to make mistakes with no consequence. I get to practice skills I didn't know existed. I get to learn that I can succeed despite once 'knowing' I could only fail.

I left with an overwhelming desire to bring my family and friends along to the next Conference. Come and see how to be happy! However, I am all too aware that everyone must decide for themselves. The people at this conference were there because they wanted to be there. None were there because their friend wanted them to be there. It is for this reason that I found myself overwhelmed with inspiration, courage and wisdom.

Thank you to all the volunteers and to each and everyone involved!

What a fun and rewarding day!

The best of the best!

This article first appeared here: Boyd Park Toastmasters Club

Sunday, 21 February 2016

Surface Pro 4 Versus $99 Pendo Tablet

A picture of a Pendo Tablet
Pendo Tablet
A picture of a surface pro 4 with its keyboard
Surface Pro 4

In the red corner we have a brand new $2750 Surface Pro 4. In the blue corner we have a brand new $99 Pendo 10" tablet. In this David versus Goliath battle can a tablet nearly 30 times cheaper really compete?

Acquired for very different purposes we realised there was in fact an overlap of uses and we wanted to see which one was best.

The SP4's main use was for Photo Shop & Illustrator. It is a (very nearly) top of the range i7 with 8Mb RAM. It handles Photo Shop with ease and has helped produce some pretty dam awesome drawings & photos.

The Pendo was intended use for browsing the internet, checking emails and watching TV shows on Netflix.

Both do their respective jobs well.

At first glance the SP4 does everything the Pendo does but better. No argument there. But the Pendo has one major card up its sleeve; Could it be the Ace of Spades!

Do you remember when you had your first car? After the initial honeymoon period, once the adoration had settled, you drove that car everywhere & anywhere. You were able to park that car outside your friends house, have more drinks than humanely possibly, somehow avoid being arrested and wake up on a sofa belonging to a strange bearded man claiming to be your soul mate. All this without giving one thought to your poor car left behind in the dodgy area of town displaying a virtual sign reading "Please take me! I'm abandoned and lonely".

But no one took your car.

Why not? It worked. It did its job as well as any other car. The reason no one took your car was because it had the sex appeal of dead rat. You had to drive that thing the long way around hills as to avoid being overtaken by a cluster of sloths.

But let's not get too hard on the old banger. Did it get you to your mates house most times? Yes. Did it give you independence from your parents? Yes. Did it give you a worry free night? Of course, and your new soul mate agreed whole-heartedly.

Now imagine your same teenage self driving a Ferrari, or a new Porsche. You drive to your friends house, in the dodgy area of town. Seriously, are you really going to leave it there? Overnight!!! No way!!!!! It wont be there when you get back. It wouldn't be there if you turned away for 5 minutes! Your friend is now upset with you because you are focused on the car and not the night ahead. Truth is, you are so worried about your car that the last thing you want to do is relax and have fun. You decide not to drink, you know you will be stopped and breathalyzed later; who would be driving a Ferrari in that part of town. Dam! You just remembered you left it under a tree. Bird droppings! Acidic bird droppings! Can you take a Ferrari through a car wash? Now you know how Ferris Bueller felt!

There is a place for the Pendo. It's not quite disposable, but not far from it. It does it's job like a "trusty" old Ford Fiesta. There's absolutely nothing sexy about it, but on most occasions it will get you from A to B, and you can park it at B without the slightest of concern. The chances are, if it's not there when you get back, someone will lend you their old one anyway, and they probably wont want it back.

When you are travelling, in unfamiliar public areas, on public transport, at the pub or in a taxi and you have other things on your mind, which tablet do you reach for?

More often than you would think, the winner is the $99 Pendo.

Yes. We used the Pendo rather than the SP4 on many occasions. We have used it a lot. Not only that, we have enjoyed using it. Some may complain it is slow. Some may say it has pixels bigger than an Elf in Lapland, but the Pendo has a place in our hearts and in our bags.

The big discovery and realisation to surface from this unlikely battle however, was not that the Pendo could replace an SP4, but that it was used so often at the same time as the SP4. Often we had both devices in front of us, plus a phone (or 2). Photo Shop running like a dream on the SP4, Tidal on the Pendo doing a sterling job bluetoothed to the amp. Business app on one, Social on the other. One device can do it all, but two devices, two screens, makes it so much less fuss.

We are so glad we invested the $99 on a cheap tablet. It was worth every dollar and then some. The only question that remains is, should we invest again!

Sunday, 14 February 2016

Returning to Work: 3 Week Review

Back to Work

So I have had some time off work due to sickness. I wrote about my return here. Well that was my first day. I thought it would be helpful to share my thoughts now that it has been 3 weeks.

A picture of an arm wrestle representing the challenges of getting back to work
Challenges Of Work

Back to Work Plan

I have only returned part time. This is part of my Back To Work Plan that was set up by myself, my doctor, my works HR department and a representative from my insurance company.

The Back To Work Plan is quite simple. It states that I will return on a 3 day a week basis for 4 weeks and then be reviewed to see if we can up the time to 4 or maybe 5 days a week. The plan can also include any ergonomic requirements I have.

Fortunately the company I work for are very helpful. I hope this is because they appreciate that, although I have been sick, my main purpose for being at work is the same as the companies, which is to ensure the customers get the best product they could wish for whilst making a tidy profit at the same time.

Long Lunch Breaks At The Gym

I asked work if I could take a longer lunch break so I could go to the gym every day. Absolutely was the answer, providing I still work my hours and do not impact a client. Working my hours and not impacting a client is not going to be a problem, so 120 minute lunch time gym sessions are on the agenda!

120 minutes the Gym! How long do you need! Ok, here is the breakdown, as advised and agreed upon by my Physio Therapist, my Exercise Therapist and my Psychologist

Daily Gym Routine

  • 20 Minute Meditation
  • 5 Minute Warm Up on Cyclic Trainer
  • Alternate daily between:
    • 30 to 45 minute Interval Training (Cardio)
    • 40 Minute Weights (Following the personalised and regularly updated plan)
  • 40 minute Stretching
With 15 minutes to get there and back and get changed the 2 hours is quickly all gone.

So this fits in perfectly with my new life managing my arthritis, but how doe it affect the company I work for?

If I have a meeting or any work commitment in the 2 hour lunch time, I either move my gym time or I do not go. Not going simply means I have to make time in the evening.

When I get back from the Gym I am excited, keen, happy and raring to go. I'm on a high. I am ready to face the world and win.

Gym Results

I have managed to go to the gym 3 times so far (having worked 8 days). On these 3 days I achieved more after lunch on the days I didn't go. Do I have evidence to back this up? Of course not! I am too busy working. Do my colleagues and bosses agree that a 2 hour gym session is in their interest? I think they do. I think they realise that I still work my hours and that I am far less tired during those hours.

Returning To Work Issues

Returning to work wasn't totally a breeze though. On my first day, when I got home I fell asleep in the hallway. I was mentally exhausted. The nerves of the first day, the anticipation of colleagues reactions and a desire to impress all took its toll on me. 

The days that followed were no different. I was exhausted. Really exhausted. Some days I was asleep by 7 pm having not eaten dinner and leaving my kids to fend for themselves.

It wasn't helped that I caught a cold within days of returning too. Fortunately I managed not to take any time off sick as I was at my worst on a very long weekend. Panadol, Lemsips and Strepsols to the rescue.

I am very wary of this exhaustion. It may sound feeble to those that work hard without hitting these walls, however, to me I am not imagining them, and because I am pushing myself so hard I am bound to hit them. What is important is how I respond and pace myself so that I maintain the strength to keep climbing them rather than collapsing at the bottom and never moving again.


My pain was also initially worse and it seems to go in fortnightly cycles these days. The first week was terrible, but I have been ok since. Cross fingers it will remain ok for a lot longer. I am hoping pain is a past problem.

Returning to Work Summary

So all in all a success. I am enjoying work immensely. I am tired, very tired and I feel stretched to my limits emotionally, however with the help of the doctors and specialist and a company that is willing fit around me to a large extent, I think the future looks good. 

I am actually glad to be back at work!

TrackR Review

TrackR To The Rescue!

Update 14/3/2017 Unfortunately I have to admit I haven't been using any of my TrackRs. First if all I had trouble connecting using Bluetooth. I had a oneplus one and maybe the compatibility wasn't tested with this phone. Either way the result was that I never used TrackR to find anything. After 6 months the battery's all died. I did replace them, but with the connection issues it all fizzled out. I so wish they worked.

I finally had to buy some TrackR devices. I was forced to simply because my memory isn't what it use to be. Quite what it use to be I can't fully remember, but I'm sure it used to be fine without the help of TrackR.

This is an image of a TrackR device.
A TrackR

What Is A TrackR You Ask? 

A TrackR is a device the size of a large coin that allows you to locate it with your phone. How it works is actually quite simple: The TrackR constantly tries to connect to any smartphone that has the TrackR app running. If it connects then it updates its location to the TrackR servers on the internet. As the owner of the TrackR device you can then look up its last known location at any time.

Also, if your TrackR app is connected via Bluetooth to your registered TrackR then you receive a rough gauge of how near it is.

Make sense? I hope so.

Why Did I Choose TrackR? 

Simple. It has a replaceable battery. The main alternative to TrackR has an un-replaceable battery meaning you have to buy a new device every year. It's a cunning subscription model to keep you coming back with your money every year. I'd prefer to pay a one off charge and have a lifetime usage. Also, TrackR is pushing hard to sell its products knowing that market dominance is worth everything in what will prove to be another Betamax versus VHS battle where critical mass beats all others before it, including technical competence.

I was asked by TrackR to write a quick review on Amazon in return for a free device. However it hasn't been published as yet and I also haven't received a parcel on the post. Early days.

From memory I titled the review "Not Perfect But A Must Have". This still seems to be an appropriate summation.

So What Does The TrackR Do Well?

TrackR's tracks your belongings! Attach it to your keyring and you will know where your keyring was, when it last connected to a smartphone running the TrackR app. A tricky concept to understand?It is important you do understand this so you know what you are, and what you are not, buying. Reading reviews on Amazon it appears many customers did not appreciate the subtle workings of TrackR before they bought, so let's make it clear:

How Does a TrackR Work?

Let's make this clear. TrackR devices do not have a connection to the internet. They can not communicate with you without help. That help comes in the form of a Smartphone. For a TrackR to talk to you, it must connect to a Smartphone running the TrackR app via Bluetooth.

I'm not sure it can be put any simpler than that. If you still don't get it, then maybe wait another year or two until 'connected' devices are available.

So what else do they do well other than  (sort of) track your belongings? Lets be as brief as possible here and have a list so we can keep this as succinct as possible:

  • They have a simple and easy to use app (to a degree)
  • They work even when they get wet (to a degree)
  • They attach to your property well (to a degree)
  • They are reliable (to a degree)
  • They have a long battery life (to a degree)
Why all the " (to a degree)"'s? Well, it is very subjective. I think TrackR's are reliable, however I bought 10 and one of them keeps randomly sounding its alarm. Am I bothered? (bovered!) not really as I haven't had time to figure out whether it is me or the device playing up. Maybe I have set it up incorrectly? Should I have to find time to do this for a simple product? No I shouldn't! However when I contacted support they were very helpful and honest, which calmed me down and gave us all time to concentrate on the working 9 rather than the bad apple demanding all the attention!

It is easy to see that using a tracking device is not as simple as one may think. All of a sudden there are requirements coming out of every nook and cranny! 
  • What happens to my TrackR in the wet? 
  • Will my TrackR get too hot in the car? 
  • Will my TrackR fall off the device I attached it to? 
  • Can I hide my TrackR so it wont get taken off and used by someone else? 
  • Will my TrackR work in the snow? 
  • Does my TrackR have an alarm on it? 
  • Can I swim with my TrackR?
  • Is the alarm loud enough? 
  • Will the alarm go off randomly?
  • Can I get a TrackR in pink? 
  • What happens if my dog sits on my TrackR? 
  • Will my baby swallow my TrackR and die? ... .... ..... 

Everyone will have different needs. 

TrackR Location Accuracy

One last point, one last very important point actually,  the accuracy and granularity of the TrackR reported location is rough. It uses Bluetooth so the accuracy is limited to the ability of a smartphone to detect the strength of a Bluetooth signal. Currently this is about 5 m to 10 m. A good way to put this is that you will know that your lost item is in your house, but you wont know which room it is in.

TrackR Atlas

TrackR are bring out a solution to help with the accuracy: TrackR Atlas. Atlas is a device you can plug into a room which will let you know whether or not your lost device is in that room. Currently in the pre-order stage we are yet to get hands on.

My Initial feelings is that many customers already expect this functionality before having to fork out for another product. With the additional cost, and complications of an additional product I think most people will be exhausted and frustrated before they consider forking out even more for Atlas.

My personal view is that there mus be a simpler solution out there somewhere and if TrackR don't discover it someone else will. Maybe there's a gap in the market to be exploited here!

All in all the TrackR is not perfect but it is still a must have.

Thank you for reading.

Friday, 29 January 2016

First Day Back At Work After A Year Off Sick

Having been off work sick for nearly a year I had been rather anxious about returning. What would my colleagues say? What would they think of me having time off whist they worked? Would I suffer from missing out on recent work? Would I be demoted?

The ultimate question I was worried about was: Would my desk be in urinal number 3, the one that everyone avoids for unspeakable reasons?

It came to that time when I found myself waiting at the elevator to take me up to the office. I was about to step into the unknown.

A large open plan office stretching out for a long way
Walk of Shame

Wondering into an open plan office where you have no desk, no meeting location and no knowledge of where anyone sits is always going to be a little bit awkward. There wasn't a receptionist to greet me. I just had to slowly meander pretending I had somewhere to go. I was very conscious that I was neither new nor old, just totally clueless. Fortunately for me, everyone in the office was extremely busy, which allowed me an uneventful entrance. No staring. No sudden silence. No heads turning in surprise. I just walked slowly but purposely until I saw a familiar face.

A woman working in an office
Back to Work

Awkward? Yes, However, after 15 minutes I was chatting to old friends as if I had only seen them yesterday. It turns out people are much too busy to waste time thinking about my time off. Some colleagues were so busy they weren't even sure if I had been away! They suspected something was different, but they weren't too sure. "Oh you've had sick leave, are you feeling better now? Splendid".

There is currently a costly government advert (below) on television showing an injured tradesman returning to work after a period of absence. We see his work mates patting him on the back and welcoming him with smiles form ear to ear. It is major cringe material and I can't imagine for one second it will motivate a single sick person to return a day earlier. However, I have to admit my back to work day was similar in concept (minus big cheesy smiles)

For the record I was given a desk a good distance from the latrines