Saturday, December 22

Waiting to board




Garry and I are sitting in the Air New Zealand lounge waiting to board our flight to Rotorua. I'm quite excited about this flight as it's a new international route established just a few months ago. Flying into Rotorua conveniently brings my parent's home within 50 minutes of an international airport. The world gets a little closer every year.

That scrape on my face? It's the after effects of a cooking accident earlier in the week. While zealously tossing items around in a stir fry I managed to flick an searing hot oil smeared onion onto my chin. It hurt like hell and swiftly blistered in dramatic style. Not my finest hour in the kitchen.

• Posted from my iPhone

Location:Mascot,Australia

Thursday, December 20

Lighting up the neighbourhood

Residents in the tower block next door are hard at work creating a new neighbourhood Christmas tradition.  Over the last week or so Garry and I have noticed more and more apartments decorating their balcony with flashing lights. As the number of participants grow, so does the overall effect.  We hope others in the complex will take up the challenge.  We think 18 floors of festive lights dazzling in the night sky would be truly spectacular. Here's hoping others will soon add to the festive experience.

 

Tuesday, December 18

Time for some Christmas cheer!

It’s hard to believe Christmas will be here a week from today.  The last couple of months have simply flown by.  Despite being officially unemployed there have been few truly idle moments.  In fact, I’m beginning to wonder how I ever fitted in a 50-60 hour working week.  If stop to consider the last few days I’ve found myself meeting headhunters, helping Garry with his company website, hosting Christmas lunch for his family and working on my interim consulting business.

I’m pleased to report that my business is off to a promising start.  Thanks to the presentation I gave at World PR Forum in Melbourne eight quality business leads have already materalized.  If these convert into real billing work I could find myself busy four days out of five during the early months of next year.  The level of interest has been rather surprising which probably indicates how detached I’d become after 15 years sitting inside the same organization.
 
Unfortunately almost every headhunter says this year has been a shocking year for the recruitment industry.  Despite the OECD’s strongest GDP growth figures, a safe haven currency and declining unemployment figures business sentiment in Australia had fallen to the same level reported during the depth of the GFC.  I continue to be mystified by the perpetual reticence and mild despondency of Australians given the relative strength of its economy.  Negative media spin on every economic subject, coupled with the ongoing trials and tribulations of a minority Federal Government, are progressively taking a toll on the nation’s collective morale.
 
On a more positive note, as I mentioned, we hosted Garry’s family for an early Christmas lunch on Sunday.  The weather dawned bright and warm.  You already could feel the sun’s intense heat radiating through closed window blinds during breakfast.  Temperatures ultimately peaked in the low 30s, before clouds began gathering for light rain shower late afternoon. 
 
We assembled our popular banquet table on our main balcony and enjoyed a delighted lunch under the shade cloth.  Garry prepared a spectacular leg of ham, while I dazzled the crowd with my famous cheese board and a couple of Summer salads.  I even put my hand to a delicious trifle for dessert, laced with brandy custard and Bailey’s Irish Cream.  As expected, we ate far too much and shared plenty of laughs.
 
With one family Christmas behind us, we have one to go.  Garry and I fly to New Zealand on Saturday to join the rest of my family for a final reunion.  Sadly, Christmas this year comes with a poignant mix of celebration and sadness.  Dad’s health continues to decline and the end is clearly approaching.  After much debate and discussion the family moved him to a retirement home last Friday to ensure he receives the best possible care. 

They've reassured us that keeping someone with Dad's challenging health complications at home simply isn't viable anymore. He now needs at least two full-time carers on hand 24 hours a day; each properly trained to nurse an increasingly immobile man. It’s heart-breaking to know this is his final home. 

However, Mum has done a sterling job caring for Dad at home this year. The medical staff are full of praise for her efforts. She has given Dad the very best of care, keeping him safe and in familar surroundings, far longer than anyone thought possible.  Often to the detriment of her own health and well being. I salute her.

Finally, with things so uncertain, Garry and I have cancelled the short road trip we’d planned around the central North Island.  As I reflect on my father's situation the misguided woes of Australian business leaders swiftly pale to insignificant. Life is far too short to be worrying about "what might happen" when our national economy remains the envy of the world.  It's time for some Christmas cheer!
 
UPDATE:  5:30pm
Just as I was about to put this post to bed, a headhunter called to touch base.  II’s been encouraging to see at least four firms actively connect me with on a regular basis while others warmly respond to every update I share.  They say the job search process is often a waiting game, tempered by irregular bursts of unpredictable activity.

Wednesday, December 5

Flying into Summer

Summer is off to a roaring start in Sydney.  The first official days of Summer were marked by a brief, but searing heat wave.  Temperatures in the city’s Western Suburbs soared to a scorching 39°C, while on the coast, the mercury hovered in the slightly more merciful low 30s. As luck would have it, I’d chosen Friday to schedule a series of business meetings. As a result, it became a feat of true endurance, wandering the CBD’s streets in a suit and tie.

Yesterday I caught up with friends who’ve recently relocated from the USA.  We met for lunch in the International Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay.  The harbour looked spectacular.  The Opera House literally sparked in the sunshine, creating the perfect backdrop during lunch.  Days like this remind me why I wanted to be back in Sydney.

Returning to Australia has also seen me clock up a few new experiences.  As I mentioned in my last post, I flew to Melbourne last month for a business engagement. I decided to book my flights with Virgin Australia. This was the first time I’d flown the airline since its launch more than 12 years ago.  My decision was prompted in part by Virgin Australia’s offer last year to match my Qantas frequent flyer status in its own loyalty program.

This let me try out the airline’s lounge, priority check-in and boarding benefits and complimentary luggage allowance.  The verdict?  Check-in was seamless.  The lounge in Sydney was a little lackluster.  Melbourne’s lounge was much better.  However, neither was on par with the Qantas Business Lounge.  However, the real delight was the aircraft I flew. 

I found myself flying south on one of Virgin’s new Boeing 737-800 airplanes.  The Boeing Sky Interior is simply gorgeous; artfully curving panels, backlit by a warm, iridescent glow. The interior is beautifully complimented by translucent bulkheads Virgin’s installed between business class and the rest of the cabin.  The cabin crew was also wonderfully attentive.  Sorry Qantas.  Virgin’s onboard experience won hands down.

I also flew Air New Zealand across the Tasman for the first time in almost a decade.  This was also an eye-opener.  The interior was clean and new, with an impressive seat-back inflight entertainment centre.  I was also impressed that staff knew I was a Gold Status member with Virgin. Best of all, I got to experience the airline’s Lord of the Rings inspired safety video. I’d already seen it on YouTube, but it’s never the same when you're sitting in a plane on the runway.  Air New Zealand is also giving Qantas a run for its money.

Finally, while in transit at Wellington Airport I got to see its latest tribute to the Hobbit trilogy.  The first installment received a world premier red carpet launch in Wellington last week. The airport's retail food court has been transformed into a super-sized underwater diorama.  A giant Golum is depicted plunging his head into the terminal, reaching for a quick marine snack.
 

Friday, November 30

Family reunion

While in New Zealand several members of the family came together for an impromptu reunion.  The occasion was made all the more special given that most of us had travelled from afar. Auntie Shirley and Cousin Hilary flew in from the UK, Cousin Chris and her partner Steven drove five hours from Wanganui and I flew across the Tasman via Wellington.

We enjoyed an afternoon of coffee, cake and laughter on the patio of my parent's home in Mount Maunganui. The weather was sunny and warm.  My father made a welcome appearance, joining Mum and the rest of us, swathed in a warm rug and seated in a comfortable armchair. Dad finds the outdoors too cold most days, leaving him largely house-bound. However, he loved the experience, making the gathering all the more special.

 

Saturday, November 24

My Dad's home


It's been eventful week. On Monday I flew to Melbourne to present at a national public relations conference. I hosted a breakfast session, sharing thoughts on commerical best practice in the Australian industry. We had about 70 people attend. Feedback afterwards was very flattering; some kindly described it as the best session they'd attended.

My post-event high was dampened by news that my father had been rushed to hospital after collapsing at home. This is second such incident in a month. Fortunately, on both occasions he'd just become very dehydrated, and nothing worse.

As I've mentioned in a recent post, I'd already scheduled a brief trip to New Zealand to see my parents this week. The timing proved very fortuitous as my father came home from hospital shortly before my flight landed in Tauranga, New Zealand.
 
By pure chance my flight was unexpectedly delayed long enough for Mum to take Dad home before heading off to the airport to collect me.  The delay was caused by Mount Tongariro erupting without warning two hours earlier.  The resulting ash cloud temporarily closed flight paths across the central North Island.  The photo of Mount Ruapheu, above, was taken on my return flight.
 
Ultimately, my trip proved well timed as it was clear my parents needed help getting back into a routine. Each hospital visit creates an unfortunate cascade of neglected chores and life activities. As a result I've been busy cooking meals, buying pantry supplies and sitting with Dad while Mum pops out to attend to personal needs.

As the future become uncertain we're increasingly grateful for the simplest of pleasures. For example, my father's happy to be back home, sitting in the sun's daily warmth. As you can see from the photo above magnificant Mount Maunganui simply sparkled in today's sunshine. For now, that's all that really matters.

Monday, November 19

Melbourne

Just arrived in Melbourne. I'll be speaking at the World PR Forum tomorrow morning. I've got a spectacular view of Port Phillip Bay from my hotel room. I can also see the conference venue where my presentation will take place.

Wednesday, November 14

Breathtaking!

I've just witnessed one of the most extraordinary phenomena in nature. At exactly 6:38am this morning the Far North Coast of Queensland was bathed in the eerie twilight of a total eclipse for two minutes and five seconds. Without doubt the entire experience was worth a 24-hour dash to Port Douglas!

The experience was exactly as photos depict it.  However, I cannot begin to describe the sensation that accompanies totality.  The sky turns a dull blue/black, followed by the sudden appearance of a glowing white ring in place of the sun's dazzling disk. It's all very surreal and truly breath-taking. Surprisingly the eclipsed disk is far larger than you expect. The sun's relative size in the sky is clearly masked by its normal, blinding glare.

I arrived in Port Douglas shortly after lunch yesterday. The town was already buzzing with anticipation.  Tourists were pouring in to witness the eclipse, including two large cruise ships, anchored just offshore. In fact, everyone on my flight from Sydney seemed to be travelling north for the same purpose.  I had orginally planned to watch the eclipse from Four Mile Beach.  However, I recently learnt that the approaching high tide was likely to cover most of the shore. 

As a result, I booked a ticket on Calypso, a local tour boat.  With the weather forecast warning of intermitent cloud, a mobile viewing platform also seemed the safest bet.  This certainly proved true as clouds played havoc with our view right up until totality started.  Fortunately, the clouds parted in the final minute providing an unobstructed view of the famous diamond ring phenomenon. A minute or so later clouds swept across the sun's disk and we lost sight of the sun on the final minute of totality. We heard later the southern end of Four Mile Beach enjoyed a unobstructed view for the entire event.

As the clouds rolled in those of us on the boat used the remaining period of totality to soak up the scene around us. As we turned towards the beach, we witnessed thousands of camera flashes burst into life along the entire shoreline.  This spectacle, in the eerie twilight, was almost as stunning as the eclipse itself.  An estimated 10,000 people had gathered along the beach.  You can see them in the photo above about half an hour before the event. Everyone was clearly getting their money's worth!  

I'm totally hooked. I want to see another one. Sadly we'll have to wait until 2028 for the next eclipse visible from Australia. On July 22 at approximately 4:00pm the moon's shadow will once again sweep across Australia on a path that crosses the city of Sydney. It's incredible that astronomers can calculate its appearance literally to second, 16 years in advance.
 
Eclipse photos: Shane Branch, Director, Hibiscus Resort & Spa

Sunday, November 11

Making every day count

The end of the year is approaching rapidly. News stories covering the US economy’s “fiscal cliff” ominously note that January 1 is less than seven weeks away. Between now and then I have four separate trips planned. It seems my days of regular travel aren’t quite done.

On Tuesday I fly to Port Douglas to witness a solar eclipse sweeping across northern Queensland shortly after dawn on November 14. This will be a quick excursion, lasting just 24 hours. Currently the weather is forecast to be partly sunny. Not ideal conditions to watch the sun disappear for two minutes and five seconds.

A week later I fly to Melbourne for another 24 hour excursion. I’m scheduled to host a breakfast presentation at the World PR Forum, a global public relations conference. I’ll be recommending strategic actions that local business owners should prioritize in 2013. Two days later I then head to New Zealand for five days to spend time with my parents.

Sadly, my father is slowly losing his five year battle with cancer. Tumors are spreading through his body so we know that his time with us is limited. His older sister (my aunt), is flying out from the UK to visit him next weekend, along with my cousin Hilary. While I’m in town my brother Matt will bring his family down from Auckland and another cousin I’ve not seen for years is also making her own pilgrimage. It’ll be a moving family reunion of sorts.

My father’s growing vulnerability has stirred an unexpectedly tender, almost protective, chord. I find myself moved deeply by his plight. I’m increasingly compelled to share as many special moments as possible in a genuine expression of love. It’s as if my inner being intuitively knows it must act now; that a unique window of opportunity will soon pass forever.

Then finally, in mid-December, my brother and his family in Austria relocate to New Zealand. They arrive on December 12. Garry and I will fly in ten days later. Our arrival heralds the start of one last Christmas reunion for the immediate family. 2012 has turned into an unusual year in more ways than one.

Oh yes, the photo that opened this post? It's a BridgeClimb to the top of the Sydney Harbour Bridge that I took with my parents back in 2001. We're the group of four on the far right. Mum thinks it was a birthday present for my Dad. I cannot recall this but do remember it was a glorious day to be on the harbour. May the memories continue to roll.

Saturday, October 27

Panorama fiesta

I've spent this evening creating a few panorama images from recent vacations in Canada and New York.  Be sure to click on each image to get the full scenic impact that smaller images don't really do justice to.  The post opens with a view of Niagara Falls, followed by a couple of stunning panoramas from the Canadian Rockies.  I've then finished the post with a view of Yosemite Valley.

 

Sunday, October 21

Up close and personal with the U.P.C

George J. Laurer is considered the inventor of U.P.C. or Uniform Product Code, more commonly known as the scanner barcode.  His linear design of fat and thin lines was launched in 1973, adapting an earlier bullseye-shaped design developed by Bernard Silver and Norman Woodland in 1948. Interestingly, none of these inventors successfully commericalised their creation. It took the likes of IBM to transform the barcode into the tool it is today. Although Woodland ultimately joined IBM helping it embed barcodes into the pioneering reaches of the retail trade.

Fast forward two score years and it's  hard to imagine modern commerce without such a ubiquitous symbol. These days you cannot buy a grocery product without a barcode and their use has spread well beyond retail. You'll find barcodes now managing worldwide freight shipping, preserving national archives and protecting sensitive hospital data.  I've even noticed them make an appearance on airport boarding passes and bus tickets.

Why a blog post on barcodes?  For the last two weeks I've been helping Garry plaster barcode stickers on much of his company's inventory. Garry's decided to outsource its warehouse logistics, which in turn requires each stock item to have a unique code.  Frustratingly, most of the stock he acquired lacks this fundamental item.  As a result, we've been forced to individually "touch" tens of thousands of products, adding coded stickers before they can be shifted to a third-party warehouse. It's certainly made for an intensive, but highly accurate, stock take.

I must confess that the focus on barcoding stock has distracted me from serious job hunting.  However, I've had more than one headhunter tell me that the market is unusually quiet.  They feel things are unlikely to pick up until the New Year. I'm now switching my focus to building out my professional network. While it's early days I'm somewhat encouraged by the connections I've started making.

Wednesday, October 3

Rockies postscript

As promised a few additional photos from our two-day excursion by train through the Rocky Mountains of Canada.  I've opened the photo with a couple of images from Vancouver, before taking you east with the Rocky Mountaineer's GoldLeaf Class carriage.  That's the Olympic flame from the 2010 Winter Olympics behind my parents.

In between the reflecting lakes is the famous "last spike" memorial.  The stone cairn commemorates the completion of the first trans-continental railway linking Canada's east and west coast.  The new line fulfilled a promise to British Columbia that ultimately encouraged it to join the Canadian Confederation, rather than respond to overtures to join the USA.  The last spike was driven on November 7, 1885.

Finally, a random images of trains and canyons that simply swept into view on every turn.  It really was a breath-takingly scenic journey.

Monday, October 1

Canada in pictures

We took literally thousands of photos during our Canada vacation. Here's a few that didn't made it into earlier blog posts. Enjoy!

The post opens with a wonderful shot of Mum and Dad in Manhattan as we were about to board our helicopter flight in perfect flying weather.  You can then see my parents in the helicopter waiting to take off.  The yellow objects are life vests that we'd have to pull over our heads in an emergency. 

Below are photos from Niagara Falls including a wonderful shot of my parents standing at the edge of the Canadian Horseshoe Falls.  Dad thought these were by far the best of the three falls that make up the Falls area. I couldn't agree more which is why we made it our first stop of the day.

The next three photos were taken in Vancouver at the Capilano Suspension Bridge, which includes a fascinating tree-top walkway. Can you spot my father in the second image?

Here's Mum dropping in for a quick coffee with the Canadian Suffragettes in Ottawa. Sadly, her extra large Long Black was made entirely of bronze.

Marman, the sculpture that dominates the plaza outside the National Gallery in Ottawa makes for a great image no matter which angle you choose.  Sadly, we were a week too early to see the best of the autumn colours in the Thousand Islands, but do revisit these fantastic autumn images we captured in Ottawa.

Liberty Enlightening the World is the perfect model. She never moves and her pose is always consistent.

Here's the George Washington Bridge; a real highlight of our Manhattan helicopter tour, followed by Central Park from the north and a classic view of the island's wall of skyscrapers.

The 9/11 memorial was a sobering reminder of the tradegy that enveloped the city eleven years ago.  I was suprised how closely my photos resembled artist impressions that were published when the design was first announced.  As you can see in the middle photo, the memorial includes the name of every person who died on 9/11, along with those killed in the 1993 bombing of the North Tower.  Ladder 24 was a fire house whose men responded to burning South Tower.

Stay tuned for more images from our Rocky Mountain train journey. Some of the images are breath-taking.