I’m just now resurfacing after a mammoth run of Hack Days here in Australia. First there was the pre-govhack briefing run by Deloitte Digital. Then there was the GovHack itself up in Canberra, and finally this weekend there was MelHack run out of Lonely Planet.
I made it up to Canberra for GovHack and had an incredibly inspiring time – we heard from Dr Nicholas Gruen (chair Gov Internet 2.0 task force) on the reasons Government were engaging in this area, we heard from John Allsopp (organiser) about the reasons for running the event and how he’d managed to pull it all together in just 3 weeks – seriously amazing.
I was lucky enough to be asked to deliver the keynote – I preached – I used the words piffle and tosh and I said something about this being an important inflection point in history, where we, the geeks, had for the first time the power to actually change the world – and that we can do it without throwing stools through starbucks windows (however tempting that may be). I talked about the fact the government were in the room with us giving us the data – that they were positively encouraging us to take it and use it to better inform the electorate – how bloody impressive is that? So we mustn’t sit here and play, we need to change the world.
They did it – the winners were an amazing gang who’d not met before the event but got together and built one of the most disruptive ideas I’ve ever seen… image a world in which you could easily see and understand the links between lobbying companies, companies bidding for work and government departments…. it would make government types squirm right? It did. Lobby Clue took the main prize – there were some really impressive builds from the rest of the group that you can see over on the wiki.
Move on a week and we’re back in Melbourne at the joint Lonely Planet / GovHack hack day – called MelHack. Phew…. first external hack day I’ve run since Over The Air in London a few months ago and I’d already forgotten how much work is involved in keeping a group of about 30 people fed, watered, inspired and cool in a building that’s air-con is playing up.
Melbourne is a cool town. It’s full of the types of people that like to go to interesting events like Trampoline. But this was the first external event I’d run here, and whilst in London I’m confident enough to stick my neck out and say we’ll comfortably get 400+ people to a hack day given the budget and space – I really wasn’t sure how it was going to fly here. We didn’t have a mass of space – we ran the event at the Lonely Planet HQ in footscray – and we certainly didn’t have a massive budget – so I concentrated on quality rather than size…. and boy did we get that. Over 50 people came through the door over the weekend and 12 ideas were presented by both staff and external devs. The quality of the people and ideas was massive.
The winners built a day trip generator using Lonely Planet POI (Point of Information) data. The application is live and working – but it does tend to struggle at the moment as it’s using the anon LP API access which is heavily throttled…. but when that’s fixed it’s stunning…. all the other ideas are listed over on the wiki – and are well worth a read and a play. The presentations are also worth a watch and they’re up on YouTube now.
I’ve been asked a lot here in Oz how you organise one of these events and if it’s only certain companies that can run them – not true. Hack Days are a lot of work, but easy enough if you think about the logistics in advance and you remember one thing above all others…. it’s all about the developers. Ross Hill took a short video interview with me talking about this very point – and if you’re interested in gettting your own hack day off the ground it might be worth a watch.
Taking my lead from Mr Dalton, this weekend saw us planning a ride up to Yea and back via a whole collection of roads that you really shouldn’t take a gixxer on – but Mr Dalton, being Mr Dalton – a farm boy from New Zealand type – ignored such advice as ‘you haven’t got the ground clearance’ to declare ‘I’m inclined to ride unless utterly shite, are we not men?’.
He was of course referring to the slightly dodgy weather forecast for the day. ‘Cloudy start with chances of isolated showers in the afternoon’. So I replied ‘Quite, I’m inclined to ride come what may… grew up in Wales – meet yours?’. You could argue this was tempting fate – but a quick check of BOM* radar that morning suggested a small windy front clearing for a good ride later in the morning.
We headed off and hit the Hume Freeway on time to meet up with Jamie… it was then Nigel realised we needed the Hume HIGHWAY, one junction back along the M80. ‘Shall we just go back?’ I meekly suggested…. ‘No! We’ll meet him down the road – call him’. Or something along those lines – suffice to say we missed Jamie and finally caught up with him a few miles up the road at the Craigieburn Servo (service station for my UK readers).
This was actually a fortuitous turn of events – the weather front was massing and again checking the radar we saw it was just a band of rain and we’d sit it out. An hour later I decided to check the radar from another source – and was rather amazed to discover the difference in radar images from two different iPhone apps… it appears that a radar station was down – and whilst my app (Oz Weather) reported this, Nigel’s didn’t (BOMradar) – but continued to show a small amount of rain. When the radar station came back online I saw what the weather was really doing – to which Nigel quietly stated, ‘sod this for a game of soldiers’ and fled the scene.
So our 288km ride turned into 50km north of Melbourne and back again in the pouring rain. Ah well – can’t have it all.
Today I headed to the map store and got the broad details I need for the first run into the outback. I love shopping in map stores, but to be honest I miss Stanfords in London – the Melbourne Map Centre as wonderful as they are (they were fantastically helpful and had everything I needed, well worth a visit) – just doesn’t add the same excitement to the start of a trip.
Some of you have been really helpful with suggestions and routes for the trip – so I’ve created a public Google Map that we can all edit – both with places I should visit and to help me work out my route – I’ve made a start but please do dive in and add detail.
Well very nearly six months – but near enough that I’ve started too look back at my short time here in Australia and take stock.
The biggest thing that’s hit me, is the things I thought would be important to me haven’t. When faced with a 25kg weight limited I tried to estimate what I HAD to have and what could be left behind – then when I had to work out what could go in my very small first shipment I tried to work out what I simply couldn’t be without. That boiled down to a bunch of electronics, my books, and my kitchen stuff. The only things that have come out of the packaging is the kitchen stuff – I’ve really enjoyed having decent pans, plates and tongs!
However, the electronics and books have, for the most part staid in the boxes since they arrived at the beginning of December, but as time has passed the things I’ve really missed I wouldn’t have expected at all. I regret not grabbing my camping gear, or my riding gear the first time around. Since I’ve bought the XT600 this month I’ve suddenly remembered what it was that enthralled me about discovering new places on two wheels. Not only the freedom that a motorcycle can give you but the complete ease at which you can throw your gear over the back wheel and stop where you please.
It’s fair to say that after the trip to Russia I felt slightly jaded about travelling. Actually that’s not fair, Russia, and the journey there are back was amazing. What didn’t sit well was the number of arguments that erupted between Patrick, Stace and I. It wasn’t my proudest moment, and seven months after the trip I’m only now starting to realise what it was that made it so amazing. It was Patrick and Stace, it was the arguments, it was the laughing, it was the tears and tantrums, it was the whole experience. I’d been concentrating on the negatives – but actually the positives far out-weight those – you only have to go back through the video updates, or look at the photos to see what I mean.
Last week I bought the entire Michael Palin travel collection on DVD. I’ve just finished re-watching Around the World in 80 days – I’ve not watched it since I was nine years old and sat, cuddled in blankets on my grandmothers leather sofa with tonsillitis. I think it was this programme more than anything else that gave me my taste for seeing the world as it really is – or rather seeing the world from the ground rather than a 747.
So back to the topic at hand, six months in Australia. I’ve got the house sorted. I’ve got the bike sorted, and I’ve got the panniers and other bits on order. When I get back from the states I’ll be bringing my camping gear with me from the UK. Autumn in Australia promises to be a season of exploration.
I can hardly begin to describe to you the utter bliss of any kind of shower after eight hours on a 777. Those of you that do the long-haul flying thing will understand that eight hours is about the limit, to then consider doing another 11 hours immediately afterwards fills most people with the heeby-jeebies.
So I find myself in Kuala Lumpur for the second time in as many months, doing 28 hour jaunts to Australia and back. It’s worth it – but only if you can find some way to pass the time in KL.
First time here I discovered a bad cafe with bad beer, bad coffee, and even worse service. I wasn’t looking forward to my second visit. The comparason however is difficult to describe. I’ve discovered that they have an airport lounge (normally reserved for those lucky enough to be flying business class) that you can simply pay to use.
It’s called the Plaza Premium Lounge and costs just 120RM for five hours use. That’s about 20 GBP. Amazing. For this sum I got a cold shower (which here, just over the equator, was rather nice) free food, free diet coke, and most importantly one of the best massages I have ever had.
But unfortunately I’ve aslo had an experience with an aging British chap, who didn’t have anything on. Poor old love thought that the wash-room / shower complex thing was an exlusive deal. He was under the impression that he had paid his 20 quid for full use of both showers, the two toilets, and the two basins. How do you explain to a someone most definately your senior, that perhaps it’s not exclusive, and perhaps, if it’s okay with him, he could maybe put something on his bottom half.
All embarasment was saved however, when he walked out into the reception area (towel now drapped around his mid-rift) demanding to speak to the manager whilst I quickly tried to have a wee before I was thrown out. I’ve never been good at having a wee under pressure, and this was definately pressure. Never mind. I managed to squeeze out a small one, retire back to the lounge and hide behind one of the free PCs to write this.
…. I never thought I’d say those words again, after one brief stint (18 months) a couple of years ago, I found I missed the rather amazing atmosphere and creative people.
There’s lots that can get on your nerves about the BBC (generally it’s finance), but none of that stops it being one of the most amazing places to work in the world, it’s easily the best place to work in the UK – and therein is the problem.
There was frankly no-one in the UK that could have got me out of the beeb, not with buckets of cash and technology that would have made me cry… but then along came Lonely Planet and devised a role that I simply had to go for, and thankfully have got!
So from the start of October I’ll be the new Innovation Ecosystem Manager for Lonely Planet based out of Melbourne in Australia – it’s all rather cool 🙂
What is God calling you to do?
Listen to my Thought for The Week on BBC Hereford on Worcester about vocation and what God may be calling you to be or do