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A temporary return to Australia due to COVID-19

The last few months have been a rollercoaster, and we’ve just had to make another big decision that we thought we’d share.

TL;DR: we returned to Australia last night, hopeful to get back to Canada when we can. Currently in Sydney quarantine and doing fine.

UPDATE: please note that this isn’t at all a poor reflection on Canada. To the contrary, we have loved even the brief time we’ve had there, the wonderful hospitality and kindness shown by everyone, and the excellent public services there.

UPDATE 2: as 2020 crawled on, and it became clear we couldn’t return to Canada, we thought long and hard about where we wanted to live, because the little one needed to start school in 2021. So we decided to return to our adopted home in Wellington, New Zealand, through the critical worker visa and a government to government arrangement between Service Canada and MSD for mutual learning and collaboration on transformation social services in the era of COVID.

We moved to Ottawa, Canada at the end of February, for an incredible job opportunity with Service Canada which also presented a great life opportunity for the family. We enjoyed 2 “normal” weeks of settling in, with the first week dedicated to getting set up, and the second week spent establishing a work / school routine – me in the office, little A in school and T looking at work opportunities and running the household.

Then, almost overnight, everything went into COVID lock down. Businesses and schools closed. Community groups stopped meeting. Everyone people are being affected by this every day, so we have been very lucky to be largely fine and in good health, and we thought we could ride it out safely staying in Ottawa, even if we hadn’t quite had the opportunity to establish ourselves.

But then a few things happened which changed our minds – at least for now.

Firstly, with the schools shut down before the A had really had a chance to make friends (she only attended for 5 days before the school shut down), she was left feeling very isolated. The school is trying to stay connected with its students by providing a half hour video class each day, with a half hour activity in the afternoons, but it’s no way to help her to make new friends. A has only gotten to know the kids of one family in Ottawa, who are also in isolation but have been amazingly supportive (thanks Julie and family!), so we had to rely heavily on video playdates with cousins and friends in Australia, for which the timezone difference only allows a very narrow window of opportunity each day. With every passing day, the estimated school closures have gone from weeks, to months, to very likely the rest of the school year (with the new school year commencing in September). If she’d had just another week or two, she would have likely found a friend, so that was a pity. It’s also affected the availability of summer camps for kids, which we were relying on to help us with A through the 2 month summer holiday period (July & August).

Secondly, we checked our health cover and luckily the travel insurance we bought covered COVID conditions, but we were keen to get full public health cover. Usually for new arrivals there is a 3 month waiting period before this can be applied for. However, in response to the COVID threat the Ontario Government recently waived that waiting period for public health insurance, so we rushed to register. Unfortunately, the one service office that is able to process applications from non-Canandian citizens had closed by that stage due to COVID, with no re-opening being contemplated. We were informed that there is currently no alternative ability for non-citizens to apply online or over the phone.

Thirdly, the Australian Government has strongly encouraged all Australian citizens to return home, warning of the closing window for international travel. . We became concerned we wouldn’t have full consulate support if something went wrong overseas. A good travel agent friend of ours told us the industry is preparing for a minimum of 6 months of international travel restrictions, which raised the very real issue that if anything went wrong for us, then neither could we get home, nor family come to us. And, as we can now all appreciate, it’s probable that international travel disruptions and prohibitions will endure for much longer than 6 months.

Finally, we had a real scare. For context, we signed a lease for an apartment in a lovely part of central Ottawa, but we weren’t able to move in until early April, so we had to spend 5 weeks living in a hotel room. We did move into our new place just last Sunday and it was glorious to finally have a place, and for little A to finally have her own room, which she adored. Huge thanks to those who generously helped us make that move! The apartment is only 2 blocks away from A’s new school, which is incredibly convenient for us – it will particularly good during the worst of Ottawa’s winter. But little A, who is now a very active and adventurous 4 years old, managed to face plant off her scooter (trying to bunnyhop down a stair!) and she knocked out a front tooth, on only the second day in the new place! She is ok, but we were all very, very lucky that it was a clean accident with the tooth coming out whole and no other significant damage. But we struggled to get any non emergency medical support.

The Ottawa emergency dental service was directing us to a number that didn’t work. The phone health service was so busy that we were told we couldn’t even speak to a nurse for 24 hours. We could have called emergency services and gone to a hospital, which was comforting, but several Ottawa hospitals reported COVID outbreaks just that day, so we were nervous to do so. We ended up getting medical support from the dentist friend of a friend over text, but that was purely by chance. It was quite a wake up call as to the questions of what we would have done if it had been a really serious injury. We just don’t know the Ontario health system well enough, can’t get on the public system, and the pressure of escalating COVID cases clearly makes it all more complicated than usual.

If we’d had another month or two to establish ourselves, we think we might have been fine, and we know several ex-pats who are fine. But for us, with everything above, we felt too vulnerable to stay in Canada right now. If it was just Thomas and I it’d be a different matter.

So, we have left Ottawa and returned to Australia, with full intent to return to Canada when we can. As I write this, we are on day 2 of the 14 day mandatory isolation in Sydney. We were apprehensive about arriving in Sydney, knowing that we’d be put into mandatory quarantine, but the processing and screening of arrivals was done really well, professionally and with compassion. A special thank you to all the Sydney airport and Qatar Airways staff, immigration and medical officers, NSW Police, army soldiers and hotel staff who were all involved in the process. Each one acted with incredible professionalism and are a credit to their respective agencies. They’re also exposing themselves to the risk of COVID in order to help others. Amazing and brave people. A special thank you to Emma Rowan-Kelly who managed to find us these flights back amidst everything shutting down globally.

I will continue working remotely for Service Canada, on the redesign and implementation of a modern digital channel for government services. Every one of my team is working remotely now anyway, so this won’t be a significant issue apart from the timezone. I’ll essentially be a shift worker for this period Our families are all self isolating, to protect the grandparents and great-grandparents, so the Andrews family will be self-isolating in a location still to be confirmed. We will be traveling directly there once we are released from quarantine, but we’ll be contactable via email, fb, whatsapp, video, etc.

We are still committed to spending a few years in Canada, working, exploring and experiencing Canadian cultures, and will keep the place in Ottawa with the hope we can return there in the coming 6 months or so. We are very, very thankful for all the support we have had from work, colleagues, little A’s school, new friends there, as well as that of friends and family back in Australia.

Thank you all – and stay safe. This is a difficult time for everyone, and we all need to do our part and look after each other best we can.

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Choose Your Own Adventure gov20 Government Personal Tech

Where next: Spring starts when a heartbeat’s pounding…

Today I’m delighted to announce the next big adventure for my little family and I.

For my part, I will be joining the inspirational, aspirational and world leading Service Canada to help drive the Benefits Delivery Modernization program with Benoit Long, Tammy Belanger and their wonderful team, in collaboration with our wonderful colleagues across the Canadian Government! This enormous program aims to dramatically improve the experience of Canadians with a broad range of government services, whilst transforming the organization and helping create the digital foundations for a truly responsive, effective and human-centred public sector 🙂

This is a true digital transformation opportunity which will make a difference in the lives of so many people. It provides a chance to implement and really realise the benefits of human-centred service design, modular architecture (and Government as a Platform), Rules as Code, data analytics, life journey mapping, and all I have been working on for the last 10 years. I am extremely humbled and thankful for the chance to work with and learn from such a forward thinking team, whilst being able to contribute my experience and expertise to such an important and ambitious agenda.

I can’t wait to work with colleagues across ESDC and the broader Government of Canada, as well as from the many innovative provincial governments. I’ve been lucky enough to attend FWD50 in Ottawa for the last 3 years, and I am consistently impressed by the digital and public sector talent in Canada. Of course, because Canada is one of the “Digital Nations“, it also presents a great opportunity to collaborate closely with other leading digital governments, as I also found when working in New Zealand.

We’ll be moving to Ottawa in early March, so we will see everyone in Canada soon, and will be using the next month or so packing up, spending time with Australian friends and family, and learning about our new home 🙂

My husband and little one are looking forward to learning about Canadian and Indigenous cultures, learning French (and hopefully some Indigenous languages too, if appropriate!), introducing more z’s into my English, experiencing the cold (yes, snow is a novelty for Australians) and contributing how we can to the community in Ottawa. Over the coming years we will be exploring Canada and I can’t wait to share the particularly local culinary delight that is a Beavertail (a large, flat, hot doughnut like pastry) with my family!

For those who didn’t pick up the reference, the blog title had dual meaning: we are of course heading to Ottawa in the Spring, having had a last Australian Summer for a while (gah!), and it also was a little call out to one of the great Canadian bands, that I’ve loved for years, the Tragically Hip 🙂

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gov20 Government Personal

Moving to …

Last October data.gov.au was moved from the Department of Finance to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) and I moved with the team before going on maternity leave in January. In July of this year, whilst still on maternity leave, I announced that I was leaving PM&C but didn’t say what the next gig was. In choosing my work I’ve always tried to choose new areas, new parts of the broader system to better understand the big picture. It’s part of my sysadmin background – I like to understand the whole system and where the config files are so I can start tweaking and making improvements. These days I see everything as a system, and anything as a “config file”, so there is a lot to learn and tinker with!

Over the past 3 months, my little family (including new baby) has been living in New Zealand on a bit of a sabbatical, partly to spend time with the new bub during that lovely 6-8 months period, but partly for us to have the time and space to consider next steps, personally and professionally. Whilst in New Zealand I was invited to spend a month working with the data.govt.nz team which was awesome, and to share some of my thoughts on digital government and what systemic “digital transformation” could mean. It was fun and I had incredible feedback from my work there, which was wonderful and humbling. Although tempting to stay, I wanted to return to Australia for a fascinating new opportunity to expand my professional horizons.

Thus far I’ve worked in the private sector, non-profits and voluntary projects, political sphere (as an advisor), and in the Federal and State/Territory public sectors. I took some time whilst on maternity leave to think about what I wanted to experience next, and where I could do some good whilst building on my experience and skills to date. I had some interesting offers but having done further tertiary study recently into public policy, governance, global organisations and the highly complex world of international relations, I wanted to better understand both the regulatory sphere and how international systems work. I also wanted to work somewhere where I could have some flexibility for balancing my new family life.

I’m pleased to say that my next gig ticks all the boxes! I’ll be starting next week at AUSTRAC, the Australian financial intelligence agency and regulator where I’ll be focusing on international data projects. I’m particularly excited to be working for the brilliant Dr Maria Milosavljevic (Chief Innovation Officer for AUSTRAC) who has a great track record of work at a number of agencies, including as CIO of the Australian Crime Commission. I am also looking forward to working with the CEO, Paul Jevtovic APM, who is a strong and visionary leader for the organisation, and I believe a real change agent for the broader public sector.

It should be an exciting time and I look forward to sharing more about my work over the coming months! Wish me luck 🙂

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Personal

Pia, Thomas and Little A’s Excellent Adventure – Final days

Well, the last 3 months just flew past on our New Zealand adventure! This is the final blog post. We meant to blog more often but between limited internet access and being busy getting the most of our much needed break, we ended up just doing this final post. Enjoy!

Photos were added every week or so to the flickr album.
Our NZ Adventure

Work

I was invited to spend 4 weeks during this trip working with the Department of Internal Affairs in the New Zealand Government on beta.data.govt.nz and a roadmap for data.govt.nz. The team there were just wonderful to work with as were the various people I met from across the NZ public sector. It was particularly fascinating to spend some time with the NZ Head Statistician Liz MacPherson who is quite a data visionary! It was great to get to better know the data landscape in New Zealand and contribute, even in a small way, to where the New Zealand Government could go next with open data, and a more data-driven public sector. I was also invited to share my thoughts on where government could go next more broadly, with a focus on “gov as an API” and digital transformation. It really made me realise how much we were able to achieve both with data.gov.au from 2013-2015 and in the 8 months I was at the Digital Transformation Office. Some of the strategies, big picture ideas and clever mixes of technology and system thinking created some incredible outcomes, things we took for granted from the inside, but things that are quite useful to others and are deserving of recognition for the amazing public servants who contributed. I shared with my New Zealand colleagues a number of ideas we developed at the DTO in the first 8 months of the “interim DTO”, which included the basis for evidence based service design, delivery & reporting, and a vision for how governments could fundamentally change from siloed services to modular and mashable government. “Mashable government” enables better service and information delivery, a competitive ecosystem of products and services, and the capability to automate system to system transactions – with citizen permission of course – to streamline complex user needs. I’m going to do a dedicated blog post later on some of the reflections I’ve had on that work with both data.gov.au and the early DTO thinking, with kudos to all those who contributed.

I mentioned in July that I had left the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (where data.gov.au was moved to in October 2015, and I’ve been on maternity leave since January 2016). My next blog post will be about where I’m going and why. You get a couple of clues: yes it involves data, yes it involves public sector, and yes it involves an international component. Also, yes I’m very excited about it!! Stay tuned 😉

Fishing

When we planned this trip to New Zealand, Thomas has some big numbers in mind for how many fish we should be able to catch. As it turned out, the main seasonal run of trout was 2 months later than usual so for the first month and a half of our trip, it looked unlikely we would get anywhere near what we’d hoped. We got to about 100 fish, fighting for every single one (and keeping only about 5) and then the run began! For 4 weeks of the best fishing of the season I was working in Wellington Mon-Fri, with Little A accompanying me (as I’m still feeding her) leaving Thomas to hold the fort. I did manage to get some great time on the water after Wellington, with my best fishing session (guided by Thomas) resulting in a respectable 14 fish (over 2 hours). Thomas caught a lazy 42 on his best day (over only 3 hours), coming home in time for breakfast and a cold compress for his sprained arm. All up our household clocked up 535 big trout (mostly Thomas!) of which we only kept 10, all the rest were released to swim another day. A few lovely guests contributed to the numbers so thank you Bill, Amanda, Amelia, Miles, Glynn, Silvia and John who together contributed about 40 trout to our tally!

Studies

My studies are going well. I now have only 1.5 subjects left in my degree (the famously elusive degree, which was almost finished and then my 1st year had to be repeated due to doing it too long ago for the University to give credit for, gah!). To finish the degree, a Politics degree with loads of useful stuff for my work like public policy, I quite by chance chose a topic on White Collar Crime which was FASCINATING!

Visitors

Over the course of the 3 months we had a number of wonderful guests who contributed to the experience and had their own enjoyable and relaxing holidays with us in little Turangi: fishing, bushwalking, going to the hot pools and thermal walks, doing high tea at the Tongariro Chateau at Whakaapa Village, Huka Falls in Taupo, and even enjoying some excellent mini golf. Thank you all for visiting, spending time with us and sharing in our adventure. We love you all!

Little A

Little A is now almost 8 months old and has had leaps and bounds in development from a little baby to an almost toddler! She has learned to roll and commando crawl (pulling herself around with her arms only) around the floor. She loves to sit up and play with her toys and is eating her way through a broad range of foods, though pear is still her favourite. She is starting to make a range of noises and the race is on as to whether she’ll say ma or da first 🙂 She has quite the social personality and we adore her utterly! She surprised Daddy with a number of presents on Father’s Day, and helped to make our first family Father’s Day memorable indeed.

Salut Turangi

And so it’s with mixed feelings that we bid adieu to the sleepy town of Turangi. It’s been a great adventure, with lots of wonderful memories and a much-needed chance to get off the grid for a while, but we’re both looking forward to re-entering respectable society, catching up with those of you that we haven’t seen for a while, and planning our next great adventure. We’ll be back in Turangi in February for a different adventure with friends of ours from the US, but that will be only a week or so. Turangi is a great place, and if you’re ever in the area stop into the local shopping centre and try one of the delicious pork and watercress or lamb, mint and kumara pies available from the local bakeries – reason enough to return again and again.

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Personal

Pia, Thomas and little A’s Excellent Adventure – Week 3

The last fortnight has just flown past! We have been getting into the rhythm of being on holidays, a difficult task for yours truly as the workaholic I am! Meanwhile we have also caught a lot more fish (up to 57 now, 53 were released), have been keeping up with the studies and little A has been (mostly) enjoying a broad range of new foods and experiences. The book is on hold for another week or two while I finish another project off.

Photos are added every few days to the flickr album.
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Studies

My studies are going well. The two (final) subject are “Law, Governance and Policy” and “White Collar Crime”. They are both great subjects and I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the readings, discussions and thinking critically about the issues therein. The White Collar Crime topic in particular has been fascinating! Each week we look at case studies of WCC in the news and there are some incredible issues every single week. A recent one directly relevant to us was the ACCC suing Heinz for a baby food advertised as “99% fruit” but made up of fruit concentrates and purees, resulting in a 67% sugar product. Wow! The advertising is all about how healthy it is and how it developed a taste for real foods in toddlers but it basically is just a sugar hit worse than a soft drink!

Fishing and weather

We have been doing fairly well and the largest trout so far was 69cm (7.5 pounds). We are exploring the area and finding some great new spots but there is certainly some crowding on weekends! Although Thomas was lamenting the lack of rain the first week, it then torrented leaving him to lament about too much rain! Hopefully now we’ll get a good mix of both rain (for fish) and sunshine. Meanwhile it has been generally much warmer than Canberra and the place we are staying in is always toasty warm so we are very comfortable.

Catchups in Wellington and Auckland

We are planning to go to Auckland for Gather later this month and to Wellington for GovHack at the end of July and then for the OS/OS conference in August. The plan is to catch up with ALL TEH PEEPS during those trips which we are really looking forward to! Little A and I did a little one day fly in fly out trip to Wellington last week to catch up with the data.govt.nz team to exchange information and experience with running government data portals. It was great to see Nadia, Rowan and the team and to see the recent work happening with the new beta.data.govt.nz and to share some of the experience we had with data.gov.au. Thanks very much to the team for great day and good luck in the next steps with your ambitious agenda! I know it will go well!

Visitors

Last week we had our first visitors. Thomas’ parents stayed with us for a week which has been lovely! Little A had a great time being pampered and we enjoyed showing them around. We had a number of adventures with them including some fishing, a trip to the local national park to see some beautiful volcanoes (still active!) and a place reminiscent of the Hydro Majestic in the Blue Mountains.

We also visited Te Porere Redoubt a Maori defensive structure including trenches, and a visit to the site of an old Maori settlement. The trench warfare skills developed by the Maori were used in the New Zealand wars and I got a few photos to show the deep trench running around the outside of the structure and then the labyrinth in the middle. There is a photo of a picture of a fortified Maori town showing that large spikes would have also been used for the defensive structure, and potentially some kind of roof? Incredible use of tactical structures for defence. One for you Sherro!

Wolverine baby

Finally, we had a small incident with little A which really showed how resilient little kids are. We were bushwalking with little A in a special backpack for carrying children. I had to step across a small gap and checked out the brush but only saw the soft leaves of a tree. I stepped across and suddenly little A screamed! Thomas was right on to it (I couldn’t see what was happening) and there had been a tiny low hanging piece of bramble (thorny vine) at little A’s face height! He quickly disentangled her and we sat her down to see the damage and console her. It had caught on her neck and luckily only gave her a few very shallow scratches but she was inconsolable. Anyway, a few cuddles later, some antiseptic cream and a warm shower and little A was perfectly happy, playing with her usual toys whilst Thomas and I were still keyed up. The next day the marks were dramatically faded and within a couple of days you could barely see them. She is healing super fast, like a baby Wolverine 🙂 She is happily enjoying a range of foods now and gets a lot of walks and some time at the local playgroup for additional socialisation.

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Personal

Pia, Thomas and Little A’s Excellent Adventure – Week 1

We arrived in Auckland after a fairly difficult flight. Little A had a mild cold and did NOT cope with the cabin pressure well, so there was a lot of walking cuddles around the plane kitchen to not disturb other passengers. After a restful night we picked up our rental car, a roomy 4 wheel drive, and drove to Turangi, a beautiful scenic introduction to our 3 month adventure! Our plan is to spend 3 months in Turing as a bit of a babymoon: to get to know little A as she goes through that lovely 6-9 months development which includes crawling, learning to eat and other fun stuff. We are also planning to catch a LOT of trout (and even keep some!), catch up with some studies and reading, and take the time to plan out the next chapter of our life. I’m also hoping to write a book if I can, but more on that later 🙂

So each week we’ll blog some highlights! Photos will be added every few days to the flickr album.

Our NZ Adventure

Arrival

The weather in Turangi has been gorgeous all week. Sunny and much warmer than Canberra, but of course Thomas would rather rain as that would get the Trout moving in the river 🙂 We are renting a 3 bedroom house with woodfire heating which is toasty warm and very comfortable. The only downside is that we have no internet at the house, and the data plan on my phone doesn’t work at all at the house. So we are fairly offline, which has its pros and cons 🙂 Good for relaxing, reflection, studying, writing and planning. Bad for Pia who feels like she has lost a limb! Meanwhile, the local library has reasonable WiFi and we have become a regular visitors.

Little A

Little A has made some new steps this week. She learned how to do raspberries, which she now does frequently. She also rolled over completely unassisted for the first time and spends a lot of time trying to roll more. Finally, she decided she wanted to start on solids. We know this because when Thomas was holding her whilst eating a banana, he turned away for a second to speak to me and she launched herself onto the banana, gumming furiously! So we have now tried some mashed potato, pumpkin and some water from the sippy cup. In all cases she insists on grabbing the spoon or sippy cup to feed herself.

Studies

Both of us are doing some extra studies whilst on this trip. I’m finishing off my degree this semester with a subject on policy and law, and another on white collar crime. Both are fascinating! Thomas is reading up on some areas of law he wants to brush up on for work and fun.

Book

My book preparations are going well, and I will be blogging about that in a few weeks once I get a bit more done. Basically I’m writing a book about the history and future of our species, focusing on the major philosophical and technological changes that have come and are coming, and the key things we need to carefully think about and change if we are to take advantage of how the world itself has fundamentally changed. It is a culmination of things I’ve been thinking about and exploring for the last 15 years, so I hope it proves useful in making a better world for everyone 🙂

Fishing

Part of the reason we have based this little sabbatical at Turangi is because it is arguably the best Trout fishing in the world, and is one of Thomas’ favourite places. It is a quaint and sleepy little country town with everything we need. The season hasn’t really kicked off yet and the fish aren’t running upstream yet, but we still netted 12 fish this week, of which we kept one Rainbow Trout for a delicious meal of Manuka smoked fish 🙂

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Personal

Antarctica Adventure!

Recently I adventured to Antarctica. It’s not every day you get to say that and it has always been a dream of mine to travel to the south pole (or close to it!) and to see the glaciers, penguins, whales and birds that inhabit such a remote environment. There is something liberating and awesome (in the full sense of the word) in going somewhere where very few humans have traveled. Especially for someone like me who is spends so much time online.

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Being Australian and unused to real cold, I think I was also attracted to exploring a truly cold problem with travelling to Antarctica is, as it turns out, the 48-60 hours of torment you need to go through to get there and to get back. The Drake Passage is the strip of open sea between the bottom of South America and the Peninsula of the Antarctic continent. It is by far the most direct way by ship to get to Antarctica and the port town of Ushuaia is well set up to support intrepid travelers in this venture. We took off from Ushuaia on a calm Wednesday afternoon and within a few hours, were into the dreaded Drake. I found whilst ever I was lying down I was ok but walking around was torture! So I ended up staying in bed about 40 hours by which time it had calmed down significantly. See my little video of the more calm but still awful parts 🙂 And that was apparently a calm crossing! Ah well, turns out I don’t have sea legs. At least I wasn’t actually sick and I certainly caught up with a few months of sleep deprivation so arguably, it was the perfect enforced rest!

Now the adventure begins! We were accompanied by a number of stunning and enormous birds, including Cape Pestrels and a number of Albatrosses. Then we came across a Blue Whale which is apparently quite a rare thing to see in the Drake. It gave us a little show and then went on its way. We entered the Gerlache Strait and saw our first ice which was quite exciting, but by the end of the trip these early views were just breadcrumbs! We landed at Cuverville Island which was stunning! I had taken the snowshoeing option and so with 12 other adventurous travellers, we started up the snow covered hill to get some better views. We saw a large colony of Gentoo penguins which was fun, they are quite curious and cute creatures. We had to be careful to not block any “penguin highways” so often was giving way to scores of them as we explored. We saw a Leopard Seal in the water, which managed to catch one unfortunate penguin for lunch.

We then landed at Neko Harbour, our first step onto the actual Antarctic continent! Again, more stunning views and Gentoo penguins. We had the good fortune to also have time that day to land at Port Lockroy, an old British station in Antarctica and the southern most post office in the world. I send a bunch of postcards to friends and family on the 23rd December, I guess we’ll see how long they take to make the trip. We got to see a number of the Snowy Sheathbill birds, which is a bit of a scavenger. It eats everything, including penguin poo, which is truly horrible. Although their eating habits are awful, they are quite beautiful and I was lucky enough to score a really good shot of one mid flight.

The next day we traveled down the Lemaire Channel to Petermann Island where we saw more Gentoo penguins, but also Adalie penguins, which are terribly cute! Again we did some snowshoeing which was excellent. I took some time to just sit and drink in the remoteness and the pristine environment that is Antarctica. It was humbling and wonderful to remember how truly small we all are and the magnificence of this world on which we reside. We saw some Minke Whales in the water beside the ship.

In the afternoon we broke through a few kilometres of ice and took the small boats (zodiacs) a short distance, then walked a half kilometre over ocean ice to land at Vernadsky Base, a Ukranian scientific post. The dozen or so scientists there hadn’t seen any other humans for 8 months are were very pleased to see us 🙂 All of them were men and when I asked why there weren’t any women scientists there I had a one word answer from our young Ukranian guide: politics. Interesting… At any rate it was fascinating and it looks like they do some incredible science down there. There was also a small Elephant Seal who crawled up to the bar to say hi. They also have the southern most bar in the world, and there were treated to home made sugar based vodka, which was actually pretty good. So good in fact that one of the guests from our ship drank a dozen shots, then exchanged her bra in exchange for some snow mobile moonlighting around the base. Was quite hilarious and poor expedition leader dealt with it very diplomatically.

To cap off a fantastic day, the catering crew put on a BBQ on the deck of the Ocean Nova which was a cold but excellent affair. The mulled wine and hot apple dessert went down particularly well against the cold! We did a trivia night which was great fun, and our team, “The Rise of the Gentoo” won! There was much celebration though the sweet victory was snatched from us when they found a score card for a team that hadn’t been marked. Ah well, all is fair in love and war! I had only one question for our expedition leader, would we see any Orca? Orca are a new favourite animal of mine. They are brilliant, social and strategic animals. Well worth looking into.

The next morning we were woken particularly early as there were some Orca in the water! I was first on deck, in my pyjamas and I have to admit I squealed quite a lot, much to the amusement of our new American friends. At one point I saw all five Orca come to the surface and I could only watch in awe. They really are stunning animals. I learned from the on board whale expert that Orca have some particularly unique hunting techniques. Often the come across a seal or two on a small iceberg surrounded by water and ao they swim up to it in formation and then dive and hit their tails simultaneously creating a small tidal wave that washes the seal off into the water ready for the taking. Very clever animals. Then they always share the spoils of a hunt amongst the pod, and often will simply daze a victim to teach young Orca how to hunt before dealing a death blow. Apparently Orca have been known to kill much larger animals including Humpback Whales.

Anyway, the rest of day we did some zodiac trips (the small courier boats) around Paradise Harbour which was bitterly cold, and then around the Melchior Islands in Dallman Bay which was spectacular. One of the birds down here is the Antarctic Cormorant, closely related to the Cormorants in Australia. They look quite similar 🙂 We got to see number of them nesting. Going back through the Drake I had to confine myself to my room again, which meant I missed seeing Humpback Whales. This was unfortunate but I really did struggle to travel around the ship when in the Drake without getting very ill.

On a final note, I traveled with the Antarctica XX1, which has a caring and wonderful crew. The crew includes scientists, naturists, biologists and others who genuinely love Antarctica. As a result we had a number of amazing lectures throughout the trip about the wildlife and ecosystem of Antarctica. Learning about Krill, ice flow, climate change and the migratory patterns of the whales was awesome. I wish I had been able to attend more talks but I couldn’t get up during most of the Drake :/ The rest of the crew who looked after navigation, feeding us, cleaning and all the other operations were just amazing. A huge thank you to you all for making this voyage the trip of a lifetime!

One thing I didn’t anticipate was the land sickness! 24 hours after getting off the boat and I still feel the sway of the ocean! All of my photos, plus a couple of group photos and a video or two are up on my flickr account in the Antarctica 2013 set at http://www.flickr.com/photos/piawaugh/sets/72157638364999506/ You can also see photos from Buenos Aires if you are interested at http://www.flickr.com/photos/piawaugh/sets/72157638573728155/

A special thank you also to Jamie, our exhibition leader who delivered an incredible itinerary under some quite trying circumstances, and all the expedition crew! You guys totally rock 🙂

I met some amazing new friends on the trip, and got to spend some quality time with existing friends. You don’t go on adventures like this without meeting other people of a similar adventurous mindset, which is always wonderful.

For everyone else, I highly highly recommend you check out the Antarctica XXI (Ocean Nova) trips if you are interested in going to Antarctica or the Arctic.

For all my linux.conf.au friends, yes I did scope out Antartica for a potential future conference, but given the only LUGs there are Gentoos, I think we should all spare ourselves the pain 😉

Below are links to some additional reading about the places we visited as provided by the Antarctic XX1 crew, the list of animals that were sighted throughout the journey and some other bits and pieces that might be of interest. Below are also some excellent quotes about Antarctica that were on the ship intranet that I just had to post to give you a flavour of what we experienced 🙂

  • AXXI_Logbook_SE2-1314 (PDF) Log book for the trip. Includes animals we saw, where we went and some details of our activities. Lovely work by the Antarctica XXI crew 🙂
  • Daily-program (PDF) – our daily program for the journey
  • Info-landings (PDF) – information about the landing sites we went to

The church says the earth is flat, but I know that it is round, for I have seen the shadow on the moon, and I have more faith in a shadow than in the church. — Ferdinando Magallanes

We were the only pulsating creatures in a dead world of ice. — Frederick Albert Cook

Below the 40th latitude there is no law; below the 50th no god; below the 60th no common sense and below the 70th no intelligence whatsoever. — Kim Stanley Robinson

I have never heard or felt or seen a wind like this. I wondered why it did not carry away the earth. — Cherry-Garrard

Great God ! this is an awful place. — Robert Falcon Scott, referring to the South Pole

Human effort is not futile, but Man fights against the giant forces of Nature in the spirit of humility. — Ernest Shackleton

Had we lived I should have had a tale to tell of the hardihood, endurance and courage of my companions …. These rough notes and our dead bodies must tell the tale. — Robert Falcon Scott

People do not decide to become extraordinary. They decide to accomplish extraordinary things. — Edmund Hillary

Superhuman effort isn’t worth a damn unless it achieves results. — Ernest Shackleton Adventure is just bad planning. — Roald Amundsen

For scientific leadership, give me Scott; for swift and efficient travel, Amundsen; but when you are in a hopeless situation, when there seems to be no way out, get on your knees and pray for Shackleton. — Sir Raymond Priestley

Categories
Aus Community Linux Australia linux.conf.au Personal

I am so thankful – the gap is sorted

I will be doing a longer blog post about the incredible adventure it was to bring Sir Tim Berners-Lee and Rosemary Leith to Australia 10 days ago, but tonight I have had something just amazing happen that I wanted to briefly reflect upon.

I feel humbled, amazed and extremely extremely thankful to be part of such an incredible community in Australia and New Zealand, and a lot of people have stood up and supported me with something I felt very uncomfortable having to deal with.

Basically, a large sponsor pulled out from the TBL Down Under Tour (which I was the coordinator for, supported by the incredible and hard working Jan Bryson) just a few weeks before the start, leaving us with a substantial hole in the budget. I managed to find sponsorship to cover most of the gap, but was left $20k short (for expenses only) and just decided to figure it out myself. Friends rallied around and suggested the crowdsourcing approach which I was hesitant to do, but eventually was convinced it wouldn’t be a bad thing.

We crowdsourced less than two days ago and raised around $6k ($4,800 on GoGetFunding and $1,200 from Jeff’s earlier effort). This was incredible, especially the wonderfully supportive and positive comments that people left. Honestly, it was amazing. And then, much to my surprise and shock, Linux Australia offered to contribute the rest of the $20k. Silvia is closing the crowdsourcing site as I write this and I’m thankful to her for setting it up in the first place.

I am truly speechless. And humbled. And….

It is worth noting that stress and exhaustion aside, and though I put over 350 hours of my own time into this project, for me it has been completely worth it. It has brought many subjects dear to my heart into the mainstream public narrative and media including open government, open data, open source, net neutrality, data retention and indeed, the importance of geeks. I think such a step forward in public narrative will help us take a few more steps towards the the future where Geeks Rule Over Kings 😉 (my lca2013 talk)

It was also truly a pleasure to hang out with Tim and Rosemary who are extremely lovely people, clever and very interesting to chat to.

For the haters 🙂 No I am not suffering from cultural cringe. No I am not needing an external voice to validate perspectives locally. There is only one TBL and if he was Australian I’d still have done what I did 😛

More to come in the wrap up post on the weekend, but thank you again to all the individuals who contributed, and especially to Linux Australia for offering to fill the gap. There are definitely lessons learnt from this experience which I’ll outline later, but if I was an optimist before, this gives me such a sense of confidence, strength and support to continue to do my best to serve my community and the broader society as best I can.

And I promise I won’t burn out in the meantime 😉

Po is looking forward to spending more time with his human. We all made sacrifices 🙂 (old photo courtesy of Mary Gardiner)

Categories
gov20 Government Personal

Getting started in the Australian Public Service

I worked for Senator Kate Lundy from April 2009 till January 2012. It was a fascinating experience learning how the executive and legislative arms of government work and working closely with Kate, who is extremely knowlegable and passionate about good policy and tech. As someone who is very interested in the interrelation between governments, society, the private sector and technology, I could not have asked for a better place to learn.

But last October (2011) I decided I really wanted to take the next step and expand my experience to better understand the public service, how policy goes from (and to) the political sphere from the administrative arm of government, how policy is implemented in practise and the impact/engagement with the general public.

I sat back and considered where I would ideally like to work if I could choose. I wanted to get an insight to different departments and public sector cultures across the whole govenrment. I wanted to work in tech policy, and open government stuff if at all possible. I wanted to be in a position where I might be able to make a difference, and where I could look at government in a holistic way. I think a whole of government approach is vital to serving the public in a coherent and consistent way, as is serious public engagement and transparency.

So I came up with my top three places to work that would satisfy this criteria. My top option happened to have a job going which I applied for and by November I was informed I was their first choice. This was remarkable and I was very excited to get started, but also wanted to tie up a few things in Kate’s office. So we arranged a starting date of January 31st 2012.

What is the job you ask? You’ll have to wait till the end of the post 😉

Unfortunately for me, because I was already 6 months into a Top Secret Positive Vetting (TSPV) process (what you need for a Ministerial office in order to work with any classified information), and that process had to be completed, even though I needed a lower level for the new job. I was informed back in October that it should be done by Christmas.

So I blogged on my last day with Kate about what I had learned and indicated that I was entering the public service to get a better understanding of the administrative arm of government. There was some amusing speculation, and it has probably been the worst kept secret around Canberra for the last year 🙂

Of course, I thought I would be able to update my “Moving On” blog post within a few weeks or so. It ended up taking another 10 months for my clearance to finalise. TSPV does take a while, and I’m a little more complicated a case than the average bear given my travel and online profile 🙂

As it turns out, the 10 months presented some useful opportunities. During the last year I did a bunch of contracting work looking largely at tech policy, some website development, and I ended up working for the ACT Government for the last 5 months.

In the ACT Government I worked in a policy role under Mick Chisnall, the Executive Director of the ACT Government Information Office. That was a fantastic learning experience and I’d like to thank Mick for being such a great person to work with and learn from. I worked on open government policy, open data policy and projects (including the dataACT launch, and some initial work for the Canberra Digital Community Connect project), looked at tech policies around mobile, cloud, real time data, accessibility and much more. I also helped write some fascinating papers around the role of government in a digital city. Again, I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with excellent people with vision. A huge thanks to Mick Chisnall, Andrew Cappie-Wood, Pam Davoren, Christopher Norman, Kerry Webb, James Watson, Greg Tankard, Gavin Tapp and all the people I had the opportunity to work with. I learnt a lot, much of which will be useful in my new role.

It also showed me that the hype around “shared services” being supposedly terrible doesn’t quite map reality. For sure, some states have had significant challenges, but in some states it works reasonably well (nothing is perfect) and presents some pretty useful opportunities for whole of government service delivery.

Anyway, so my new job is at AGIMO as Divisional Coordinator for the Agency Services Division, working directly to John Sheridan who has long been quite an active and engaged voice in the Australian Gov 2.0 scene. I started a week and a half ago and am really enjoying it already. I think there are some great opportunities for me through this job to usefully serve the public and the broader public service. I look forward to making my mark and contributing to the pursuit of good tech in government. I’m also taking the role of Media Coordinator for AGIMO, and supporting John in his role.

I’ve met loads of brilliant people working in the public service across Australia, and I’m looking forward to learning a lot. I’m also keen to take a very collaborative approach (no surprises there), so I’m looking at ways to better enable people to work together across the APS and indeed, across all government jurisdictions in Australia. There is a lot to be gained by collaboration between the Federal, States/Territories and Local spheres of government, particularly when you can get the implementers and policy developers working together rather than just those up the stack.

So, if you are in government (any sphere) and want to talk open government, open data, tech policy, iterative policy development, public engagement, or all the things, please get in touch. I’m hoping to set up an open data working group to bring together the people in various governments doing great work across the country and I’ll be continuing to participate in the Gov 2.0 community, now from within the tent 🙂

Categories
Personal

Best. RickRoll. Ever.

I have a tale to tell – a tale of adventure, suspense and many many lulz.

A month ago was my birthday. As many of you know, I love surprises. So when my brother Touie told me to keep the 21st November free for my birthday present without any clues I was ecstatic.

What could it be?! A event, dinner, gig, circus, deep sea diving, lunar trip!! The options endless, as my imagination played with all the possibilities and impossibilities. It provided a few days great entertainment.

Earlier this week he rang to check I was still keeping the evening free, so I started musing again. But I’ve had a lot on, so didn’t really stop to think carefully about what it could be. It only occurred to me to check what was on in Canberra late this evening, but I didn’t want to ruin the surprise.

Touie picked me and we drove to the city. As we got close I was instructed to put my jacket over my head. We pulled up in a car park somewhere and he decided he needed to fashion a real blindfold to improve the surprise. As he started to take off his sock I yelled “hell no!”, and I fashioned a crude blindfold from some duct tape (both my father and brother are refrigeration mechanics, duct tape is always close to hand :)).

The blindfold went on and I was led about 300m to a venue. Up steps, down steps, across roads, my hearing enhanced by the sudden lack of sight, cars on either side of us and then into a venue. At one point I could swear I could smell circus smells, but I think I was just being ambitious.

People around found it quite entertaining as my brother told them to not give it away. We went to buy some mechandise and the salespeople were telling me I was “going to love it”. I was ordered a small of something whilst I tried to figure out what was going on, and the merchandise turned out to be a tshirt thrust into my hands. So I’m at a gig of some sort? Wasn’t quite ready to let go of the circus idea 🙂

I was led *into* the gig, up and down stairs and when we got to our row the blindfold came off and I was faced by a musician I didn’t recognise on stage, playing random songs. Confused I moved into my seat and tried to figure it out.

The shirt!

I switched on my phone and looked at the front of the shirt.

Capital R

Capital R eh? What the?

Turning the shirt over I struggled to read the text, but when I did…

“Rick Astley Australian Tour”

Touie and the tour tshirt

No. Way. No WAY. NOWAY! I laughed in my seat for 10 mins whilst the intro act was on, trying to not be overtly rude. I had been rickrolled in an EPIC fashion. By my brother. I would not live this down.

Then Rick came on, and I have to say, in spite of myself, it was actually a hilarious concert. He’s a funny guy.

The crowd was full on. It’s a Wednesday night for goodness sake, and we had women (and indeed a few men) throwing themselves on the stage, giving Rick roses, getting up to sing, holding Rick Astley printouts on sticks and some people even brought out their cassettes and vinyl, holding them up whilst singing every word. It was…. intense.

They didn’t play *the* song till last thing in the night, but some of the new songs were actually quite good, he did some excellent covers of motown and old songs, and the biggest moment of cognitive dissonance was Rick Astley, on the drums, playing and singing “Highway to Hell”. Seriously. The sound quality on my phone left a lot to be desired so check this out instead. Prepare for your own cognitive dissonance 🙂

And I still am stunned by the fact I have now been to *AND ENJOYED* a Rick Astley concert. What on earth is going on.

One of his new songs, Superman, wasn’t half bad either.