Twas the afternoon before audition..

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‘Twas the afternoon before audition
And here in my house
My heartbeat is racing
‘nother 5 hours, thereabouts;

I thought that maybe trying to focus on something OTHER than my upcoming audition would help. I sat and stared at that first stanza for long enough to realise “Nope, there’s nothing more coming out.”

It’s been a little bizarre practising my audition piece. There is at least 5 different characters singing lines in a 16-ish bar segment. Bar 31-47-ish of “This Jesus Must Die” from “Jesus Christ Superstar“. Trying to find the right balance of performance and singing. Giving enough character and distinction between each, but not overpowering the role I really want. Making each an individual vocal “styling” but leaving enough head and vocal space to not kill the strength of the actual piece. I’m really hoping for Caiaphas, but would be happy with Annas or one of the priests.

I feel like I’m walking a tightrope.

I kind of set myself up for this schizophrenic style of audition piece, even before the audition pack was released. Previously, this company didn’t want audition pieces from the prospective musical so I had started on “Confrontation” from “Jekyll & Hyde” – in order to be able to show off more of the performance side of me. In a way, I was gutted when the audition pack came out and I had to let that song drop.

Ah well.. the joys of musical theatre.. I’m not even going to start on the dance audition….

 

 

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Confessions of a department store Santa

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Ollis Christmas Photo - 2017Sometimes, opportunity doesn’t knock. Sometimes it throws the door open and yells out “Merry Christmas!”. This year, opportunity came to me wearing a wig, beard, big shiny gumboots, and a Santa suit. For 5 weekends, my Saturdays transported me to a Winter wonderland and transformed me into the very public persona of Santa Claus at a local department store.

Regardless of age, there’s something inherently magical about Santa Claus. From the wide-eyed little ones waving coyly to the older nonbelievers catching your eye and smiling broadly, Santa Claus crosses the age gaps as easily as Rudolph leads the sleigh on foggy nights, and cracks open young and old hearts ever so effectively with a hearty “Ho ho ho!”. And even in this fast-paced, electronics-oriented, fast-everything generation, Santa seems to slow down time and draw out that very human need of wanting to believe in something.

Preparation is key to becoming Santa, and the “Santa” company worked really hard to get all of us Santas up to speed, providing a 19 page training booklet and online resources to help bring a level of consistency to the store Santas. We were provided answers to questions like “How do reindeers fly?” and how to respond for requests for pets – “Pets jump around in the sleigh, and can fall out.. so I leave pets to Mum and Dad to provide.” Videos showed us how to put the Santa suit on most efficiently, how to care for and maintain the suit and beard and wigs. Most importantly, the training taught that the `persona` of Santa Claus is part of the suit and you `become` and stay Santa as long as you are in the suit. And I must admit hearing little voices yelling “Santa! There’s Santa” is something that warms your heart and every time brings a smile under the beard.

However, there were many other things that I was not prepared for. From previous unpaid Santa roles, I knew that Santa was the hearer of Christmas wishes, the recorder of Christmas wants, the scribe of “Naughty-and-Niceness” lists. I wasn’t quite as well prepared for the role of confidant, or counsellor. It was these times that I was glad of the beard soaking up an errant tear, or that the act of listening let me hide the knot of emotion in my voice.

A man in his 50’s came and shyly asked for a Santa photo. After the requisite fussing and framing by the photographer and during the printing process, `Santa` jokingly commented that normally its the children in the Santa photo. The gentleman softly and sadly noted that he his family were overseas and they were separated and that his yearly Christmas tradition was to send his children a Santa photo.

You can usually tell the people who are heading to you for a photo – new or freshly pressed outfits, hair recently cut or painstakingly coiffed. One time in late November, Dad and son came through the store, not really prepped and ready for a Santa photo, obviously not planning to have a Santa photo. Again, during the mechanics after the photo, Dad confides that this is his only custody weekend before Christmas and made a spur of the moment decision to “just wanted to make a memory, you know?”.

There’s also the families that are really IN to Christmas and the Santa photo is not just something to have – the Santa photo is something to be ENJOYED. One family of 5 came for photos, so obviously dressed and prepped, eccentricity oozing from each of them in their outfits or jewellery or hairdo – each of them bringing character and life, energy and love for the generosity of Christmas. Or the three Filipino families who all wanted to be in the same Santa photo, with so many children and parents that Santa almost wasn’t visible in the photo. Or the family who brought along spouses, fiances and significant others for a photo so joyful that it really was triumphant! – we just won’t mention their post-photo antics that was only recorded on iPhone and is not something for public consumption.

Santa got to hear of relatives who are sick, friends who have died, families who are both near and far. To have photos with 6-day-old cherubs, 75-year visitors from Ireland, and every age in between. To have been met with wide-eyed adoration, and wide-mouthed screaming in terror. To have been sneezed on, wet on, boogered on, but fortunately not vomited on. Had his beard pulled, belly poked, boots stomped, and hat stolen.

The Santa training also didn’t prepare me for the extra baggage I’d be bringing home. The carefully handwritten Christmas lists, the cookies shyly offered, the hugs of little ones. Or that afternoon when a 12 year old girl came and whispered her heart-felt Christmas wish – “please don’t tell mummy this, but I wish that mummy and daddy to be happy for as long as I live”. In that instant, Father Christmas and Father Confessor, all wrapped up in one. Do I remember this girl’s name? Yes! Do I wonder about the back story behind this secret wish? Definitely! But this Father Confessor/Christmas remembers all of the non-commercial wishes and offers up after-Santa-hours prayers – for the young and old alike. For they opened their hearts and lives to a suited stranger and, in child-like wonder, believed in and hoped for some Christmas magic to touch their lives.

Christmas, regardless of your religious beliefs or background, is the celebration of the birth of the Son of God, celebrated as a beginning of hope, joy to the world and peace to all mankind. Where local shepherds and foreign kings united together under a chorus of angels setting the standard of how our world should be – no boundaries between rich and poor, nationalities or beliefs. And I think we can all agree that the world definitely needs more of that.

Oh, just so you know – Reindeers can fly because Santa has a pouch of Magic Dust made from the dreams of Christmases throughout the ages – just a sprinkle of this dust is all that is needed for a night of Reindeer flight. So please, please help keep Santa real and the reindeer flying, and dream of Christmas past, present and future.

“Merry Christmas to all.. and to all a Good Night!””

Unionize Your Variables – An Introduction to Advanced Data Types in C

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Programming C without variables is like, well, programming C without variables. They are so essential to the language that it doesn’t even require an analogy here.

https://hackaday.com/2018/03/02/unionize-your-variables-an-introduction-to-advanced-data-types-in-c/

Is IoT The Next Big Thing?

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There’s been a lot of discussion about Cloud, be it Hybrid or Full. A lot of vendor marketing chatter about “Big Data” and things like Hadoop Cubes. And a lot of hype and noise about the “Internet of Things (IOT)”.

But I personally think that the next big thing is a consolidation of all three of these technologies, and then an overlay over all of it. The beauty of the Internet of Things is not so much that you can turn a light on or off remotely, but the amalgamation and summarisation of all these events into a data source that can be reported on. To be mined and and detailed in ways we haven’t yet considered. And a side aspect of this is the monitoring and reporting on the health of the IOT devices – I don’t think people will be overly concerned that a Smart TV turned on at a certain time but you might be concerned if a IOT-connected refrigerator goes offline, along with the hundreds of dollars of cold storage goods.

However, an event like a TV turning on or a motion sensor triggering could be of interest if it occurs outside of a baseline time scale. For example, if you’re not expecting movement or activity perhaps you want to be alerted. Or it might just be that your pets have figured out how to tune in to The Discovery Channel.

It is the consolidation and intelligence that can be applied to these IoT data sets that will bring us all closer to the ‘intelligent’ or ‘self-reactive’ home and businesses of the future. It’s not going to be “The Jetsons” but it’s a start.

I personally believe that IoT has the potential to deliver incredible benefits, not just for the individual but for the community at large. I just don’t think we’ve quite hit the tipping point, from a cost or usefulness factor, for IoT to be perceived as another gimmick by the general public.

In several home-technology / media server forums I’ve been a member of, there has been a semi-joking reference to the WAF, or Wife Acceptance Factor – a low WAF indicates a `tolerance’ for the technology invading the home, whereas a high WAF means it is being actively used. And I think a similar “acceptance factor” could be applied to IoT; yes it’s cute to be able to turn your lights on and off from your phone, but how does it actually help me?

There’s two things that I feel are holding IoT back:
1) A consistent infrastructure to glue the APIs and presentation information together
2) A consistent reporting / analysis / monitoring infrastructure.

Services like IFTTT and Zapier go some way to deal with (1), but its not drag/drop, not easily configurable for Joe or Josephine Random, not intuitive to generate something useful. Things like “When one of my registered Wifi-devices joins the wireless network, turn on the lights, open the blinds and set the airconditioning to 22deg Celsius”. Things like “When this Bluetooth device approaches an egress door, trigger a camera, do face recognition and unlock the door”. Or things that economically make sense like “If no sensors detect activity in a room, turn off the lights, close the blinds, and close the airconditioning vents in that zone”.

It is in (2) that IoT would really come to its strengths from a community perspective. Take a look at wunderground.com and you can see data being freely presented from Personal Weather stations across the world. This represents a massive data set of cumulative and historical datapoints for weather research, for both forecasting but more importantly – alerting. Information such as wind speed and direction or rainfall could be inputs to an infrastructure model to fine tune the prediction of catastrophic weather events, or to pre-emptively alert for the likelihood of flooding. It could trigger the on-demand activation of additional emergency personnel, or even something as capitalistic as getting more Uber drivers available.

Knowing the when and where of resource provision allows for better economic decisions to be made. Not just by forecasting or trends, but via the actual anonymised, privacy-protected live data. Take power generation as an example – it is costly in both economic and environmental terms. A home-based solar electricity system could make `intelligent’ decisions as to how much power it could effectively sell-off to the grid, determined by actual live usage data from the IoT power monitoring system, the feedback from the IoT interface on the power self-storage battery array, the sensor information on residency (who’s actually at home), the weather conditions, and whatever other goodies we can come up with. Multiply that by however many homes have solar-generation capability, and provide that information to the power-grid companies who can then make better decisions as to when or if they can spin up/spin down power generation capacity. It is a win-win for both the individual and the provider.

And I will highlight and reiterate this – anonymised AND privacy-protected. We don’t need another way for additional targeted advertising, or invasion of our homes. IoT, even at this early stage of adoption, needs to ensure that adopters get to choose what information is shared, and to whom. And what the impact of that choice is, economically or otherwise. Maybe this is a business opportunity – to financially incentivise IoT adopters to publish their IoT data, and then on-sell that to the highest bidder. Or maybe this is already happening and IoT adopters don’t have a say in it just yet..

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who watches the watchmen?

NB: This post is the consolidation of my content from my Cloud Advice post

Communication is key

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get your head out of your assAs a customer-focussed IT professional, communication is key to ensuring a happy customer. It’s not rocket science! One of my colleagues, aka Panda, always said that TOFU was the way to get a happy customer.. Take Ownership Follow Up.

One of the projects I’ve been working on, alongside my daily doses of TOFU, is to get a new faster, more notes, better, Internet link for the office. The drinking straw to the Internet was getting slammed from 8am till 6pm every work day, and it just kills productivity. So the US head office orders a new fiber service. Initially, communication, whilst sporadic, did occur, giving regular updates on where the build was at, when to expect line technicians, and the like. And then, once the fibre service was installed, and ready to go – NOTHING.

Now I know about telephone tag, it’s a fun game I get to play daily – usually, I can hit my target within 1-2 days. After 2 weeks of calls and emails to get the final commissioning details, I was ticked – I’ve got the office staff asking when it’s going to happen, I’ve got network engineers parking the project due to lack of progress. And all it would have taken is ONE PERSON to do some communication and let me know where we’re up to.

It was fate, then, that must have let me see a tweet from the Telco roll over my feed. Maybe a public name and shame will help? After this tweet I finally started to get some traction, and finally have the circuit provisioned, tested and ready to go live tomorrow.

And all it took was a little communication.

UPDATE: Would you like to win a Bluetooth Star Trek Communicator valued at $229? Please click on my competition link  to enter!

The dreaded phone call

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Vote Flux
Yesterday it happened. Not just once. Twice! I got the dreaded phone call. The phone call that strikes fear into the bravest of men. The phone call that makes babies cry out, and mothers to clutch their children closer.

I got the automated robot call that waited just long enough for me to say “Hello?” before spewing a pre-recorded political spiel down the line. Waited just long enough to ensure that I wasn’t an answering machine. Just that moment long enough to hopefully found someone who cares enough to listen all the way through to the end.

And while the dulcet tones of Fred Nile came sliding through the ear-piece like a well-greased pig heading for the trough, I was contemplating the waste of money this phone call was. The electorate of Mitchell is Liberal, VERY SAFE Liberal. 21.4% swing needed Liberal. It’s so Liberal that when you look up Liberal in the dictionary it lists Mitchell as the shining example. Wouldn’t the Christian Democratic Party be better served targeting an electorate that was more likely to be swayed?

A hypothesis was starting to crystalise in my mind when I was politely greeted by the overly-silky and audio-engineered warmth of Julie Bishop seeping into my ear, again carefully trickle-fed by the phone-robot once it was certain there was something other than an answering machine waiting. The hypothesis was forming that perhaps. just maybe, the seat of Mitchell wasn’t quite as safe as expected. Or was there something else at play? Based on the 2013 elections, Labor would have to double its primary vote to even be close to making a dent in the Liberal chokehold on Mitchell.

The hypothesis has firmed to a theory:

1) Mitchell is a very obvious feeder electorate into the North-Western Sydney bible belt – The Christian Democratic Party was clever to target this area in an effort to sway voters based on their beliefs. The effort was poorly executed, however, as most of Fred Nile’s selling points were fairly un-Christian and probably had the opposite effect.
2) The Liberal robo-call was all the standard fire-fighting spiel – not privatising Medicare, increased spending on Education, border control, blah blah. But it was the dig against “micro parties” that makes me wonder if this was less about shoring up support for the House of Representatives, and more about limiting the possible damage of parties like VoteFlux.

The micro-to-small parties know that a seat in the Senate gives them bargaining power, a handbrake on legislation and policy being made law. And the major parties know it too, and are working to discredit them. Malcolm Turnbull said “I counsel all Australians against a roll of the dice on independents or minor parties. A vote for anyone other than the libera; and national party candidates and there is a risk that Australians next week will find themselves no certainty at all about their future”. If the major parties are scared of the micro parties and independents, that in my mind is an even stronger argument that we should.

I don’t know what order I’ll be numbering the House of Representatives for my vote in Mitchell.

But I do know that I’ll be starting off with a [ 1 ] next to “VoteFlux – Upgrade Democracy” in the Senate.

A State of Flux

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Vote FluxThree days ago, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. In four days, Australia votes for the Australian Federal government. The United States are also in the throes of a Presidential election. It feels like our whole world is in a state of Flux.

We’ve seen all manner of changes to the political landscape in recent times. Wikileaks, Anonymous, The Panama Papers – it seems as though there is a story breaking every other day about corruption, corporate tax avoidance, the reduction of services to the public.

It appears that the current Australian Federal government is in a state of schizophrenia. With one hand the government gives the message that Australia should be the “Clever Country’ yet with the other hand talks about increasing the cost of attending a university by deregulation. With one hand talking about creating jobs yet with the other hand removing $1.2B worth of incentives to hire apprentices. Talking about having to cut back spending to reduce deficit yet giving away tax concessions to businesses under the guise of a “trickle-down economy”.

The only “trickle-down” I’m seeing is this mentality of looking after your mates while doing nothing for the people of Australia. This mindless sacrifice of the long-term viability of this nation while trying to win short-term points within a political party. A demonstrated disdainfor providing actual leadership of this nation.

This style of democracy has to end. Where one vote every four years is supposed to reflect the desires of the people of this nation. And the ticking of some boxes on a ballot paper somehow engenders a politician’s support of the interests of me and mine.

It’s time for OUR revolution. A revolution where those in public office provide an actual service to those who they represent. It’s time for a revolution where government policy is held up to the light of public scrutiny for comment and, at the end of the process, to be voted on by all citizens of this great land. A revolution where public sentiment can be quickly and efficiently harnessed, where the best and the brightest can debate and challengethe status quo, and provide for informed debate on the issues that face our nation.

On July 2nd, I encourage you to place a 1 in the box next to “Vote Flux – Upgrade Democracy”. I encourage you to send a wake-up call to the major political parties and remind them that the Australian people deserve the right to be heard. To encourage you to join, with others, on the journey toward this revolution, OUR REVOLUTION. A revolution where you no longer have just one vote but rather have a vote on every issue. A revolution that empowers transparency and real accountability in the democratic process.

A revolution that truly upgrades democracy. A revolution that is Flux.

#voteflux

Martin Place one year on

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Martin Place Flowers Sydney SiegeOne year ago today, I was holed up in my office near Martin Place. One year ago, as Floor Warden, I was trying to keep an office full of men and women calm in the face of a virtually unknown threat. One year ago, I had to send an SMS to my wife and children to let them know I was safe before they heard the news when they landed from an interstate trip.

The Martin Place siege, as it has come to be known, was a turning point in a lot of people’s lives. A colleague of mine today recounted that he’d always thought he’d be calm, cool and collected under any situation, but that he was shaken more than he cared to admit by a threat so close to work.

One year ago, a nutter with guns took over a coffee shop, barricaded himself and his hostages inside a centrally-located building, and plastered Daesh flags on the windows, sending the media sharks into a feeding frenzy and whipping up fears that a terrorist attack had occurred in our city.

One year ago, I was faced with the possibility that a friend of mine, who works in the police Tactical Respnse Group, may be putting his life on the line to save the hostages held within the Lindt Cafe. One year ago, these police officers sent SMS messages to their loved ones, fully expecting that their lives would be lain down for others.

One year ago, I was organising for my office mates to leave their workplace in pairs, to try and get out of the city safely by whatever means they could, to get back to worried spouses, to pick up children from school and day-care. As I walked with my two partners towards Circular Quay, the streets that were normally busy and filled with traffic and pedestrians were quiet and still. The stillness was only broken on Bridge Street by a group of teenagers, taking the opportunity to skateboard down a city road that would normally be inaccessible to them. The ferry ride out onto Sydney Harbour, and up into the Parramatta Rover is usually a peaceful and relaxing trip, from Sydney’s iconic skyline and harbour-side and along the river; the beauty was tinged with the fear that perhaps the the reported bomb threats on the Bridge and at the Sydney Opera House were real, and perhaps this would be the last time I’d see them.

One year ago, I remember finally walking through the front door of my home, after an arduous three-hour circuitous trip, and falling into the waiting arms of my wife and children. It was that moment that is indelibly burnt into my memory, that it truly is the love of family and friends that is most important. Buildings can be rebuilt, assets can be re-purchased. But the lives of your family are irreplaceable. And tonight, as the Martin Place memorial service runs, as footage of the flowers in Martin Place replays, and as another sunset drops into the west, reach out and hold your loved ones. If you love someone, take the moment and seize today as the day to tell them.

Do not let love go denied. Do not let hate be magnified.

Pride comes before a camera replacement

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Too much ego will kill your talent There’s a lot to be said for not trying to over-reach your talent and ability. Most times, you are just going to walk away with the figurative “egg on your face”, but it is those other times that are going to cost you money.

This is one of the “this will cost you money” events, could almost be an addendum to my last post There are old pilots…

About a month ago, my son went to a birthday party, and came home with the obligatory helium balloon. If you know Ben, you will know that, even at 10 years of age, he LOVES balloons, especially helium balloons. Many a tearful episode has occurred because a helium balloon has made a bid for freedom to the skies because Ben has let it slip out of his fingers.

Now, I need to give some background to this story first – I live in a two-storey house, which has a raked ceiling over a formal lounge area, and the ceiling is about 12 metres at its highest point.  There is a little alcove overlooking the formal lounge, protected by a wooden balustrade.

Shortly after Ben gets home from the party, the balloon goes AWOL, and of course makes its way to the highest room in the tallest tower, or more precisely the apex of the ceiling in the formal lounge. Now we could have let the balloon makes its way down over 24 hours as the helium leached out. But no! I’ve got a quad-copter, with rotor guards, that could nudge the balloon to the alcove, and then Ben could retrieve it.

After making sure there ware nothing breakable under the flight-path, I slowly got the Syma Xc5 alongside the balloon, and started nudging the balloon along. All was going great, Dad is going to look like the hero. The balloon is almost at the alcove, the kids are cheering, I’m getting admiring glances from my wife, the heroic soundtrack starts playing on the home stereo, and the brass band starts warming up in the front yard. I was SET!

Now let’s pause here for a moment, and consider the mechanics of quad-copter flight. You have four, in my case, rapidly revolving rotor blades. These blades are shaped to pull air from ABOVE the rotors, and push it down BELOW the copter. It doesn’t HAVE to be air.. it could be dust, powder, balloon..

As part of the manoeuvring the quad-copter down along the raked ceiling and my focus drift to my adulant fans, I’d managed to sink too low and got the XC5 underneath the balloon. The balloon subsequently started to get sucked into the rotor path. I reflexively yanked the XC5 away, and in doing so managed to snag the camera wires on a stray picture hook in the wall nearby. This neatly tore the red wire out of the connector, and I’ve yet to be able to get it securely re-fitted.

SKU115108-17 Replacement camera X5CI looked around online for spares, and found a replaceSKU249291-1 X5S wifi camerament X5C camera at BangGood. Even better, however, was the replacement X5S camera (seen here on the right) which is WiFi capable, and gives you a FPV-style view from the XC5 onto your iPhone or Android device, and was $29, as opposed to the $20 for the original camera. (Clicking on the images will take you to the BangGood pages for those items). I ordered the X5S camera, and set to waiting.

< 3 weeks later >

All that was needed was to remove the two screws holding the battery cover on both cameras, and then screw the original XC5’s battery cover onto the X5S camera. No mess, no fuss, didn’t have to do any hardware hackery. Just download the app, connect to the new SSID that the wireless camera provides, start the app, and voila! FPV! And the additional bonus was that the mounting points on the back of the camera fixed the horrible camera angle issue that the standard X5C has.

The thumbs were a little rusty, and I was bumping into everything. But! I was now able to fly where I didn’t have line of sight and I’m LOVING it.