Friday, March 13

OLPC test-a-thon

It has always been important to me to have some of my personal time devoted to community work. I enjoy it more than anything and always feels good to contribute in some way. While I was at university I volunteered at the Community Law Centre and Radio One at Otago University, but since then salaried employment made it difficult to divide up life so I could fit it in. Now as a self-employed business owner I have more control over my time, and as a member of Unlimited Potential and on the committee organising 2010, I now have more than enough to keep me occupied in my spare time.

This weekend UP is running an event at the Southern Cross Bar and Restaurant called the OLPC test-a-thon. If you haven't ever heard of One Laptop Per Child, its an inspirational story. The project began at MIT with the idea that it should be possible to make a laptop for around $100 that can survive in hot equatorial regions, so that virtually every child could have access to a computer. They are distributed to schools and communities in developing countries so children in those countries get access to e-books, and communication tools, games and activities that promote learning and knowledge and try to limit the 'digital divide'. The software running on the laptops is open sourced, and is constantly improved and updated courtesy of volunteers around the globe, even in Wellington. A small group of volunteers have been regularly gathering every Saturday at the Southern Cross to work on the software and contribute to the project.

To assist them its always great to have kids to test out the unique interface, and so this Saturday Unlimited Potential want to help support the work that they do and promote a test-a-thon. Adults and kids alike are welcome to come along and learn about and test the laptops at 10.30am this Saturday. Martin Langhoff and his team of volunteers will be there to demonstrate the games and activities to talk briefly about the work of OLPC. Unlimited Potential will be there to giveaway prizes and some free coffees, and a free brunch to a lucky individual. Register now to save your place.

Monday, September 22

post SFD wrap

What a great day Software Freedom Day turned out to be in Wellington this year. Thanks to Nat Torkington for coming down to host and again to all organisers and sponsors for their contributions. But an even bigger thanks to everyone who came. It was amazing to see over 215 registrations with most of those turning into attendance on the day.

Brenda will be writing up the event for our global competition entry so send your thoughts about the day through to her so she can include your feedback. We would love to run an event again next year for Software Freedom Day '09, and most of the organisers met this week to ensure that happens.

The barcamp is a phenomenon for the uninitiated and can take some getting used to. I experienced my first barcamp at kiwifoo in 2007. There I met colleagues from the ICT industry, participated in discussions with thought leaders and listened to new concepts and ideas I'd never heard before. I was buzzing afterwards, and that's the kind of reaction I was hopeful at least some of those who attended on the weekend were going to have.

The barcamp is an unorganised conference or 'unconference' where anyone attending can decide on a subject for a session at the start of the day. It is up to those attending each session to contribute to the discussion and raise their own related thoughts and views. It generally works really well and encourages everyone to participate. The photos of all the sessions topics are up on flickr, as are all the photos taken throughout the day.

The hackfest was a hive of discussion, testing and installs, and an addictive place to be. Jethro and Brenda created a casual meeting place with sofas at one end and tables at the other for those bringing serious hardware for the installfest. It was nice that if you felt like it you could break from the structure of the barcamp sessions and chill at the hackfest and drink copious amounts of coffee courtesy of havana and Fletch. One of the highlights of Software Freedom Day was seeing the kids arriving with parents and testing out the latest shipment of laptops from One Laptop Per Child. Next year we hope to have even more activities for the kids (watch out for the bouncy castle).

The giveaways were a huge hit, from the Sun and Fedora CDs, Sun t's and other google goodies, to the webstock prize drawn at afternoon tea time by Tash Hall from the webstock team. Congratulations to Richard Clark for winning the Golden ticket to webstock next year, and to our other two winners of the InternetNZ books 'Connecting the Clouds'.

Thanks again to everyone who helped organise the day, and made SFD Wellington an awesome event!

Thursday, September 18

Software Freedom Day 08

Really excited about Software Freedom Day this Saturday. When I enthusiastically put my hand up to organise it at our Unlimited Potential meeting, its a good thing I had no idea of the volume of work involved, but it has just become this wonderful thing! CWA New Media offered to help design and build a website to take registrations, Don and Chris at Catalyst IT came on board and then Brenda, Jethro and Martin Langhoff from One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) put their hands up to organise the hackfest. Nat is coming down to host from Auckland, and ICT networks from all around Wellington are pulling in together to help organise and sponsor. Suddenly I find myself having to do new things like apply for custom codes to receive goodies from Google and Sun Microsystems from overseas. I am biased but Wellington is really where its at right now for good ICT vibe!

The event is going to feature an ‘open source barcamp’ allowing participants to discuss their thoughts, ideas and experiences with open source software and a ‘hackfest’/'installfest' which will offer participants the opportunity to participate and the SuperHappyDevHouse hack-a-thon, demonstrate open source software to a captive audience, and have open source software (such as Linux) installed on their computer with help from the WellyLUG team. There will be free wifi, expresso courtesy of havana, an afternoon tea and after a short wrap up session at 6pm, pizza and beer!

All those registered for Software Freedom Day ‘08, and in attendance on the day will also have the chance to win an $895 ‘golden ticket’ to Webstock ’09 and associated swag (thanks to the generosity of the Webstock team). InternetNZ have also donated two books which will also be part of the prize draw.

I had some tinny luck myself at mini-webstock last week, with my name being pulled from the hat for a Golden Ticket to webstock. I was utterly stunned and didn't quite know what to do when my name was called. I'm stoked to be able to attend in Feb next year, its a big event and there are some awesome speakers lined-up.

On Saturday, thanks to many of our sponsors there will be a giveaway table with some free goodies for everyone.

Software Freedom Day ‘08 proudly organised and sponsored by Unlimited Potential, CWA New Media, New Zealand Open Source Society (NZOSS), SuperHappyDevHouse, WellyLUG, Ideegeo, Morphoss, Cafenet, Catalyst IT, Sun Microsystems, 920, Grow Wellington, Gen-i, Silverstripe, Xero, Google, Webstock and InternetNZ.

So come along. It's not to late to register here

Wednesday, July 9

Start-Up, UP and Away

Looking forward to the Start-Up, UP and Away party tomorrow night.

Start-Up Media are currently filming a tv series focussing on profiling NZ's online community, and at the same launching the 2nd edition of Start-Up magazine. The event is effectively a Wellington launch of the magazine and will be hosted by Start-UP Media, Unlimited Potential and SiliconWelly, a community of Wellington based, NZ-owned technology business innovators. Thanks to UP sponsors, and HP and Telecom particularly for helping out with this event. We also have some cool swag courtesy of Cafenet, Mojo and Hell Pizza, and of course a Start-UP magazine for all those who sign up to attend.

It's free to join UP and reserve your ticket for the event, and its a great networking opportunity for anyone in the ICT community in Wellington. Come along for a celebration of all things Welly and a fine story of Start-Up success.

Wednesday, June 25

juggling bits and pieces

Working on a web-based startup fulltime is really only possible if you have a large amount of cash behind you, and even then most investors will want their money poured in to the business idea not your salary - fair enough!

This means though that you have to juggle a bit to find the right balance between earning enough money to pay for weddings and still maintain a caffeine addition, while having good opportunities to focus on your web project.

Just finished preparing a paper I will be presenting at a Lexisnexis conference entitled Turning Policy into Legislation. Looking forward to the opportunity of catching up with ex-work colleagues from the Office of the Clerk and the Parliamentary Counsel Office and meeting other conference attendees.

While I'm juggling things a bit at the moment, I'm lucky to have a flexible income source in the form of a government consulting company fivepeas limited. If there's one thing I've learned - its important to secure an income of some sort to give you as much freedom and time as possible for when you start working on your idea.

Wednesday, June 18

engaged in italy

Just returned from an amazing holiday in Italy following the wedding in Spain, with the highlight being Glynn's proposal late one evening on Ponte Vecchio in Florence. Just loved Florence which came in the middle of our short tour of Italy. Our trail leading from Rome to Florence by train, then a tour around Tuscany in a hire car which included visits to Siena, San Gimignano, Pisa, and then up to the Cinque Terre, Lucca and full circle returning to Florence, and then back on the eurostar to Venice. All in 8 days! Here are some photos of our tour and the ring.

Rome (Roma)

On our first evening in Rome we wandered from our accommodation in the Vatican District B&B Antiqua Roma (brilliant B&B) to the Spanish Steps and the Fontana di Trevi or Trevi Fountain, both major sites in the city. As is the custom we turned our backs to the fountain and threw in our coins to ensure we would return to Roma.

The next day we were up early because of jetlag and toured St Peter's Basilica and the Square, and then around the corner to the Vatican Museums to see the Sistene Chapel and the Raphael Rooms. All absolutely incredible and well worth seeing, but it really pays to go early. We emerged onto the streets at 10.30am to find queues 6 blocks long.

Despite the rainy weather, we flagged the idea of catching the tour bus around the city in favour of walking everywhere. In search of roman remains we visited the Pantheon which is probably the best place to see the most intact remnants of the period. Most ruins in the city are literally rubble that require a great deal of imagination or a personal tour guide to really bring it all to life.

I'd been missing my coffee rituals and Roma didn't disappoint with great expresso and a good excuse to sit down in Piazza Navona and watch people escaping the thunderstorm.

If you go to the Vatican on Wednesdays you can have an audience with the Pope. He usually appears on the balcony overlooking St Peter's Square but since it was raining he sat in the Bascilica and delivered his welcome in several different languages. We just happened to be there to witness it all, and the circus of photography and screams from the tourists made it felt more like a Hollywood production than a spiritual blessing.

One of our last stops in Roma was the Colesseum which is surrounded in the Roman ruins of the Forum. You can buy a ticket to see both and instead of an audio guide we opted for a video tour which recreates a virtual view of the colosseum. It's a clever gadget called the TimeMachine which you sling around your neck and hold up as you walk around certain points in the stadium while it generates images of the colesseum as it once was.

Florence (Firenze)

We took the Eurostar to Florence, and at 250 km/ph we arrived in 1hr and 50mins. We were staying not far from the station at Hotel Caravaggio which thankfully had wifi internet. I loved Florence, partly because it all seemed more accessible than Roma with the tourists slightly less obvious, and the music and culture more prominent. The food was absolutely incredible and the amount of pasta we ate defies belief.

The highlight of our entire trip came our first evening after the most delicious meal I can ever remember having at La Giostra. Glynn managed to guide me across the city completely unaware to Ponte Vecchio and proposed on the bridge late in the evening. I said yes (of course) and we enjoyed a lovely stroll over the famous bridge and around the piazzas in the city. A night to remember!

The bridge is historic, not only because it is famous for proposals. The current structure that crosses the river Arno, was built in the 1300s following a series of wooden bridges built originally by the romans at the same location. Jewellery stores line the bridge which apparently was saved from being bombed during WW2 under express orders from Hitler. In search of a ring we went back to the bridge in the light of day but the tourists had taken over so we decided to wait till Venice to see if we would have more luck there.

Tuscany (Toscana) - Chianti, San Gimignano, Siena, Pisa, Lucca

We said goodbye to Florence and hired a car for a two day adventure into Tuscany. We weren't sure whether we would make it up to the Cinque Terre so we just played it by ear with only one night's accommodation booked in San Gimignano.

We took the back roads and drove to Siena through the chianti region and stopped at a tiny village called Fonterutoli for a wine tasting and purchase. We learnt that to retain the chianti name, the local wine must be produced using 80% San Giovese grapes.

Glynn looked at me sideways when I compared some parts of the tuscan countryside to the rolling hills outside Dunedin but certain parts of the region really did remind me of New Zealand, mainly Central Otago with all the vineyards. We stopped for lunch at Il Borgo di Vescine and looked out over the vines while we enjoyed a platter of meat, cheese and bread. Magic.

A short stop in Siena, an ancient walled city with a maze of narrow one way alleys that restrict vehicle traffic to a minimum. On our fifth day of rain we decided to abandon common sense and drive our hire car straight into the walled city to try and park up outside the town square. After a bit of kiwi she'll be right and some hair raising moments for the irishman driving under instruction, we found ourselves parked two minutes walk from the main piazza and fountain, and time for another one of those italian coffees. It can be done, but wouldn't recommend it in hindsight.

It just didn't take as long as we thought to drive around the Tuscan region so we found ourselves with ample time that evening to stroll around San Gimignano, have dinner and enjoy "The Best Gelato in the World" - although not as good as Karl's at Kaffee Eis in Wellington. Our accommodation Hotel Pescille on the outskirts of the walled city was located on a beautiful vineyard. Although it was a cool evening we enjoyed a glass of their wine outside looking back at the famous skyline of the medieval city.

The tower of Pisa was still leaning when we got there. Not booked in advance we weren't some of the lucky ones entitled to climb it. The whole experience reminded me of our trip to Paris and laying eyes on the Mona Lisa. So famous and well-known and when you see them in the flesh you just have to stand there until you feel you've properly seen it. In our case that took around 10mins, plus a walk around the base. It is hard to believe how old it is and that Galileo once travelled to Pisa to drop things off the top of the tower to test his theory of gravity. The experience only slightly tarnished by getting lost trying to find a car park and the 5 hawkers in a line near the tower all selling the same battery powered GI Jo crawling along the ground. Who buys those things?

Cinque Terre

With time to spare we decided we could make it to Cinque Terre so we took the toll road. We whizzed up from Pisa to La Spezia in an hour. Having made good time on the A1, we spent a frustrating two hours trying to find a safe parking building, so we could catch the train into Cinque Terre knowing we would have a car to return to. We finally found the Kennedy car parking building and only took the bare minimum with us for the night.

The Cinque Terre is made up of five villages clinging to the coast linked by a walkway and train which travels between them every 15 mins or so. We decided to head straight into the largest village Monterosso and asked about accommodation at the train station. The lemon festival was on so accommodation options were slim but we ended up with a room in the town - next time we'll definitely book ahead.

Monterosso is a beautiful seaside town, with a great family atmosphere and one of the most popular of the five villages. Lots of children were selling lemonade and men were playing petanque down by the beach. After walking around the town we decided to walk over to the next village Vernazza for dinner. The Cinque Terre is a National Park so we paid 5 euro for a ticket to walk the two hour track which leads up into the small vineyards and market gardens owned by the locals. They recommend sturdy tramping shoes and we passed many red-faced tourists along the steep track. We walked it in jandels because we didn't bring any other footware with us - not ideal but certainly managed it.

The views from the top of the hills before we descended into Vernazza were breathtaking and the hassles with the car in La Spezia were totally forgotten as we sampled homemade limoncello from local growers on the track.

One day I want to return to Vernazza, the most beautiful spot for dinner you could possibly imagine. The walk down into the village is truely spectacular and the dinner of fresh seafood - yum, the whole experience felt so italiano. We'll probably be old and wrinkled and will be taking the train rather than walking but I look forward to returning already and having time to explore the other villages as well.

Venice (Venezia)

We'd been lucky with accommodation on our trip and Venice was no exception. Its hard to get accommodation close to the Grand Canal. At the famous Harry's Bar on the canal you can pay over $100 euro for a starter, so nothing's cheap in Venezia. We were lucky to hear about La Rosa Dei Venti 15mins walk along from the start of the canal and St Marco Piazza looking out at San Salute. The boat stop two minutes from the B&B was on the main route to the airport so we were well set up to just enjoy the sites right up until our departure in the afternoon the next day.

We wondered into the St Marco Piazza initially and then around the alley's and canals that connect the city by gondola and boat. Wished we had time to find a museum that explained exactly how the city is staying afloat and their plans to save it sinking into the mudflats on which it was built.

We visited Gallerie dell'Accademia and although it was enjoyable we were disappointed that Leonardo's Vitruvian Man stored at the museum is not available to be viewed.

The heart of the city is down the Grand Canal off the famous Rialto Bridge, so we cruised up the canal on boat No. 1 and got off to walk across the bridge into the markets and shops.

On our last night in Italy we decided to enjoy a nice meal and some tirimisu at the Ristorante Do Leoni in Hotel Londra Palace with a table looking out over the canal. Our visit to Venezia completed by wandering into St Marco Square on our last day to find a small jewellery store called Boldrin Gioielli with the perfect ring - the best momento and a magical end to 8 days in Italy.

Thursday, May 22


Lydia, Glynn's sister, works as a translator in Barcelona - which is where she met Eduard (Edu), a spaniard who asked her to marry him. Hence, Glynn and I travelled to Europe for a few weeks to attend their wedding in Spain, with some sightseeing included.

It was lovely to meet the Parker-Hills (the Irish Aussies) for the first time when we arrived in Barcelona, and we caught a tour bus together around the city. Glynn's parents, Lydia and Edu joined us the next day and we all enjoyed a meal together at a Spanish version of the chipper - amazing selection of seafood cooked to your liking. The gothic architecture of Gaudi dominates the city, especially the Sagrada Familia, which we stopped to admire one morning eating the traditional jamon (pronounced hamon) and cheese pastry for breakfast. Its already extraordinary even though its not complete, due to be finished sometime in 2026.

Over the two days we explored the city and kept heading back to Los Ramblos to enjoy getting lost in the atmosphere of the narrow maze of alleyways with shops and cobblestoned piazza's. A highlight was La Boqueria Mercat - a vast food market with stalls of fruit, sausage, jamon, seafood, bread and chocolates. The next day Glynn and I bought some goodies from the Mercat and wandered up to the Gaudi Park overlooking the city for a picnic lunch.

Leading up to the wedding family and friends had gathered at the venue at Hotel Figuerola, near the small village of Vandellos in the hills about two hours south of Barcelona by train. The irish and spanish hoards had booked the hotel for the weekend of the wedding and it was a great arrangement to all be staying in the same place for a few days so we could enjoy catching up with everyone (including a short round of non-competitive pitch and putt).

Edu - Lydia's husband, loves Spain, he is very passionate about the culture, his family and a big fan of the food and wine - and I can now understand why. The day before the wedding we had a large meal with Edu's family and the immediate Foster clan about 45 minutes by car from Vandellos in a small spanish village made of white limestone in the middle of rice fields. The village was built by General Franco to house workers he brought over from from Italy to work in the rice fields. Main courses of paella followed a series of delicious starters including everything from octopus, eel, snails and squid.

In Spain you eat your main meal in the middle of the day. Traditionally, all the shops close at around 1pm for lunch and a siesta in the afternoon reopening around 4 or 5pm. Dinner is a light meal eaten anytime from around 8.30pm till late. It took little effort for Glynn and I to adapt to this new eating and sleeping schedule, as with the jetlag we were sleeping and feeling hungry at strange times anyway.

On the day of the wedding Lydia looked beautiful and Edu very handsome. Thanks to Duncan for some of these photos I've included and he's posted more great photos of the wedding here. The vows were taken in Spanish but the ceremony transcended language and everyone understood the distinctive parts of the service. The reception was a colourful, musical fiesta, with four kegs of guinness shipped in by the hotel for the irish contingent - and they drank it all! During the meal there was music and traditional calls for the bride and groom to kiss each other, and then the parents of the newlyweds, with lots of napkin waving in between. The food was amazing and the cake was brought out in a darkened room with sparklers and more music.

In Spain they give the gift of money and the challenge is to give it in the most original manner possible. For example, one time Lydia gave her friends euros screwed up inside walnuts they had broken in two, emptied and glued back together. For Edu and Lydia their friends gave them a puzzle which once they had completed was turned over to reveal a code which opened a locked box of money.

In another tradition Edu and Lydia danced around the room and then stopped in front of a couple to give a gift of two dolls holding hands. That couple turned out to be us and once the gift and kisses and hugs were exchanged in front of the entire room of people to applause we found out that the gift tradition is given to the couple most likely to be married next!!! A bit of fun to end a really enjoyable wedding and something very different to the kiwi variety - congratulations Lyd and Edu!