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Year in Review, Part 1

Posted on 2010.12.30 at 19:38
Current Music: Darin - Paradise | Powered by Last.fm
2010 began rather inauspiciously, with both Krista and me shaking off colds we'd picked up at Christmas. Still, we were in our own apartment and the visa application had been put through, so it wasn't a bad result overall.
The early stages of the year were built around recovering from the breakdown I'd had towards the end of 2009, and this gradually became a viable proposition. We also began putting down some ideas about having some of Krista's family come to visit us. This proved easier to organise than we'd expected.
Other things also turned out to be easier. New recruits joined the team and became firm friends, and I moved gradually into a leadership role within the team. Donna's secondment came to an end with the best possible result - she'd been made permanent!
Just when I was wondering what other wonderful news would come through, Krista announced that her visa had come through, with barely any wait. I still can't believe how easy that proved to be.
To cap it off, I was then awarded a Local Hero Award at the bank, which gave me a day off at a winery and a very nice prize I could take later in the piece.

By this point, the year was well and truly in full swing. Dad organised everyone to get to a family reunion outside Adelaide, and a fantastic time was had by all despite some very early starts and chilly temperatures.
On our return to Brisbane, the Local Hero day coincided with the start of Eurovision season, which this year featured one of the most magical results I'll probably ever see in the Contest. Lena Mayer-Landrut, a girl with no previous singing experience before trying out for Germany, ran away with a very convincing win performing the infectious "Satellite", one of my favourite musical moments from the year. Of course, there was even a brilliant interval act - Madcon with "Glow" - which has set the year off nicely as well.
Germany's Eurovision success led towards the World Cup. While Australia didn't do particularly well, I was able to cheer my beloved Deutschland into the semi-final where they sadly fell victim to the Spanish before taking their second straight third place.

And so it was pretty much time to log off for four weeks of holidays. The first fortnight was spent with Krista's mother and brother staying with us and seeing the sights of Brisbane and the region, and a lovely time it was too. The weather stayed fine (mostly) for us, and everything just worked the way holidays never quite seem to. The second fortnight saw us both get sick again, but recover in time for a lovely time at O'Reilly's.
I then returned to work just in time to get tonsilitis and be down for the count for a week.

By now it was already August, and Krista and I organised ourselves to start November off in Melbourne as my prize for the Local Hero win, carefully sorting out a dinner at George Calombaris' "second" restaurant (Hellenic Republic) while we were there - MasterChef having become rather an obsession for us both.
September passed without major incident, aside from a rather low-key birthday celebration which pretty much nobody was able to make it to.

There were a couple of Level B opportunities at work which I dutifully put my hand up for but was passed over for, which began to influence my thinking that something outside the centre was the way forward.

November began in Melbourne with a particularly memorable and enjoyable weekend for us both. We ate too much and did a lot of sightseeing, which sounds like a pretty good time all up. We needed the break, too, as the rest of the month fairly flew by as we counted down towards Katherine's wedding, which turned out to be a very good fun time as well.

And all of a sudden it was December, which was spent dodging rain and organising for Christmas once again.


Christmas Roundup

Posted on 2010.12.30 at 08:01
Current Music: Ola - Unstoppable (The Return of Natalie) (Benji Of Sweden Radio Edit) | Powered by Last.fm
Christmas this year was a bit more disjointed than last year, which is a good thing from an energy perspective.

Christmas Eve
Unlike last year, when we submitted Krista's visa application, this Christmas Eve was a normal work day. Well, I say "normal", but we had a big Christmas lunch with the team and there were hardly any customers.
Friday evening was the Estonian Christmas, in which I gave Krista two environmentally-friendly glass straws (the idea being that you use them instead of plastic ones when you're out and ordering a drink) as well as the complete Sherlock Holmes (since she's never really met him before). In return, I got Dream Theater's "Train of Thought" album and a box of home made chocolate truffles - yes, I said home made. Most impressive.
Krista Skyped with her mum, and I watched the hilarious "Spicks and Specks" Christmas special, which I rate as one of the best they've done (Hamish Blake as Catherine Zeta Jones and Andy Lee conducting with a baguette...).

Christmas Day
No church this year, for the first time ever in a home Christmas, so Krista and I surfaced rather later than normal before getting a lift up to Mum's place for Christmas lunch with the family. The usual merriment ensued, even though numbers were down a bit on most years (some people were away). Krista's Estonian piparkook got its traditional rave reviews, as did the marinated meat.
After that, it was off to the north side for a visit with G'ma and Mark and Cathryn (who were there most of the day). We all rather cleaned up present-wise here, with Krista receiving a tower of fantasy novels which should keep her busy for a while, and everyone else getting lots of good reading as well.
Back to Mum's for the family presents, which again were very impressive. Not all of them had arrived, courtesy of the weather in the northern hemisphere, but apparently Krista's and mine all had, so that was good. I was most impressed to finally get "Im Juli" (one of the best German movies ever) and "The Language of Bees" (the next instalment in a series of novels), after looking for them for years.

Boxing Day
We began with a trip out to Dad's place for presents with him, as well as a bit of Christmas food in the form of a very rich cake.
Back we came to Mum's before heading onto the Wilson Boxing Day gathering in the pouring rain, which rather deflated the usual atmosphere there.

A very quiet day during which we did nothing.

The nearly-traditional Games Day at Sue's was fun for all concerned, although again numbers were down due to several people being away.

We still have the Kriewaldt-Young Christmas on January 3, which was put there due to other commitments on everyone's part.


I'll never understand some people

Posted on 2010.12.23 at 07:08
Current Music: Darin - Homeless | Powered by Last.fm
Why is it that people post things in travel communities which essentially run "I've got a hotel booked and flight tickets to [Location]. Now, what do you recommend I do while I'm there?"

I mean, I understand that not everybody makes plans so minutely and so far in advance as I do when it comes to travel (I've been known to plan exactly where to eat on my first night in a given location long before I even buy a flight ticket), but surely you don't just spend a couple of hundred or thousand dollars to go somewhere entirely at random and then wonder what happens when you're there? What if there's a war on, or you've landed in the middle of a long holiday period?
Perhaps this explains how the GFC came about. So many people borrowing money (using credit cards etc) to do silly things.


More news

Posted on 2010.12.16 at 20:57
Current Music: Anabela - Sto ratova (feat. Mia) | Powered by Last.fm
In typical fashion, the "chat with the girl in Operations" never quite came off. Initially, she'd got her calendar round the wrong way (how does that happen?) and it had to be the next week. Then she managed to lose her calendar to a computer crash and go out for lunch instead.

Meanwhile, the fabulousness that is "Unity" launched at Westpac. It's hard to explain the significance of this software to non-bankers, but I'll try.
It used to be that we would have to use all sorts of different programs to serve our customers. On a relatively simple call, for example, I might use TCS to identify the customer, IMS to verify their address and VisionPlus to check the details of a transaction on their statement. They might need some minor adjustments to their internet banking or to order a new statement, which would require Service Online, and while we're talking they may end up generating a sales opportunity which would be loaded in Relationship Builder. This is before we'd do anything overly complicated and bring out PC Account Opening for a term deposit, Decision Assist to check account histories and so on.
Thus, most of a call would consist of copying information from place to place and remembering the arcane codes to check how a Handycard is linked ("IMS73") for example. Make one system crash, and it would, and suddenly the call becomes immensely complicated.
Unity, on the other hand, brings all of those applications together and launches what we need when we need it. Moreover, rather than having to copy details around the place, it almost invariably generates "Customer-in-Context" - you want a cheque stopped, and it'll launch the three programs you need and open exactly the right pages, for example.
As a result, it speeds up the more complicated things we do, and makes the simple ones really easy, so things are done faster and better. Because it's new, everyone's terrified of it apart from me because it works the way I think. So lots of fun, in other words.

The really big news, though, has come courtesy of the most unexpected source. Donna told me vaguely that there was a 6-week secondment at Head Office in the city working on manuals and things and asked if I was interested. Of course I was, but I didn't think anything would come of it.
Well, Wednesday of last week I was told that something had most definitely come of it. I've got the secondment and start on the 4th of January. I believe it's a case of helping out with the manuals for Unity itself, so I intend to jump in with both feet on this one. There's every possibility that a good performance here will get me longer secondments and permanent positions in the future.


It's been a while again

Posted on 2010.12.04 at 09:04
Current Music: Menhir - Falkenburgstein | Powered by Last.fm
So after the disappointment of the Call Quality fiasco - and also not getting Level B either - it took a fair while for me to bounce back to my best.

One positive, though, was a 100% call I received. Needless to say, given my interests, it was a call which featured a customer travelling overseas and in which I was able to give all sorts of useful information that (according to Call Quality) nobody else even knows at the bank.

The other big positive, aside from the fact that it's nearly Christmas, has been that Donna and all the powers that be are working overtime to find me some kind of analytical job at the bank. Not talking to customers, just working to improve what we do.
Next Tuesday, in fact, I'll spend half an hour chatting with one of the people who works as a liaison between "Operations" ("Head Office", basically) and the Centre. She rarely talks to rank-and-file bankers, so that means something in itself.
I was also told just yesterday that there's a 6-week secondment coming up in the new year working in "Policy and Procedure" (basically simplifying both). I believe I'm the only person from the Centre being put forward...

In other news, the new desktop software at work launches next week. Any Westpac customers out there should get a really interesting new experience soon.

Also, the Christmas presents seem to be just about bought. The tally is as follows:
Krista: Done
Mum: Paid for, not collected
Kit: Ordered. Should be here next week
Simon: Ordered. No ETA as yet, but soon
Work Secret Santa: Done
My Secret Santa for Dad's Family: Done
Krista's Secret Santa for Dad's Family: Yet to be ordered, but we know what we're doing
Dad: Partly done
Mark: Under control
Cathryn: A couple of ideas
Krista's Family: A couple of ideas


Interesting discovery

Posted on 2010.11.20 at 17:15
Current Music: Vanessa Amorosi - Mr Mysterious | Powered by Last.fm
Iceland is phenomenally cheap to travel around these days, courtesy of the fact that the country went pretty much bankrupt last year.
From Iceland, one can theoretically do a day trip to Eastern Greenland. That costs a bit more, since a lot of the companies running these trips are Danish, and Denmark's not broke and not Eurozone, but if Iceland itself is so cheap, perhaps it balances out...


Melbourne and other events

Posted on 2010.11.14 at 20:59
Current Music: M.I.A. - Paper Planes | Powered by Last.fm
The first weekend of November saw us in Melbourne, as a result of the Local Hero award I'd won back in May. We'd decided that the best use of my prize was to get a night's accommodation at the Park Hyatt there and spend a long weekend enjoying the city. Best. Idea. Ever!

I hadn't been to Melbourne in a good 5 years or so, and that was a rather bizarre weekend just before Christmas with Cathryn. In all honesty, the only major thing I could remember from that weekend was a taxi driver making off with my iPod and then having to race around Brisbane (including Megamart, which really dates the story) to get a replacement before going to the Middle East with Dad. Krista, of course, had never been.
Friday morning, therefore, saw us getting up freakishly early to get to the airport for an 8:00am flight which ended up being slightly delayed. We got to Melbourne around midday and sorted ourselves out to find Little Collins St, where we'd booked a night's accommodation to kick off with. A quick lunch was followed by some navigation of Melbourne's iconic trams to get to the Melbourne Museum to see their exhibition of artifacts from the "Titanic".
This was really spellbinding stuff, as there were reconstructions of real cabins and the Grand Staircase from the interior of the liner as well as a lot more focus on the human scale of the disaster than I'd ever really met before. On arrival, in fact, everyone gets a "boarding pass" describing one passenger and why they were travelling on the liner. Near the end is a huge board detailing all the passengers and crew so that you can check how "you" went in the disaster - Krista and I both drew people who died. The board also explained just how multicultural the liner was, as there were passengers with Finnish or Estonian names and even a couple of people who sounded like Ottoman subjects at the time.
On our return to the CBD, we had a quick browse in the Foreign Language Bookshop and the ever-fabulous Haigh's Chocolates, before getting changed for dinner with Cathryn. This was at "Hellenic Republic", a Greek restaurant owned by MasterChef's own George Calombaris. Needless to say, the meal was fantastic and featured the best moussaka I've eaten outside Athens, as well as an entire cooked flathead and a dessert featuring ouzo-marinated strawberries.
As the night was still young (and still eerily light, courtesy both of daylight saving and being further south), Cathryn took us to a strange counter-cultural event called "The Village", which we were dutifully surprised by.

Saturday saw us clearing out from our first hotel and migrating to the Park Hyatt. To say that we were stunned by the new location is an understatement - this is a five-star hotel in a five-star location, just behind Parliament House. Our suite (it wasn't just a room) was immense and featured such things as a walk-in-wardrobe and lights that basically responded to touch, rather than flicking switches.
Our location meant that we could catch the free City-Circle trams to near the Queen Victoria Market, which had a similarly mind-blowing effect on us as we were immediately faced with a sea of produce, seafood, meat, sweets of different kinds and even live chickens. Indeed, at one point I was surprised to see a woman walking behind me with a large cardboard box which suddenly started clucking!
From there, we returned to the centre of town for lunch at the Hopetoun Tea Rooms before picking up some chocolates at Haigh's and a handful of things (Teach Yourself Finnish, Teach Yourself Swedish, an Icelandic thriller, "Man Som Hatar Kvinnor" on DVD and "The Da Vinci Code" in German) from the Foreign Language Bookshop. This done, we retreated to our palatial suite.
Part of the prize also involved a three-course meal and wine at the in-house restaurant, which was fantastic as well. This is a fine-dining establishment the likes of which we'll probably never be able to afford ourselves, but we made the most of the chance.

We had a late checkout on Sunday, and after making full use of the breakfast buffet we checked out Captain Cook's Cottage and the Immigration Museum before heading back to the airport and returning to reality.

The rest of the week has been rather uneventful, except for our forays into the new Coorparoo Markets (or "Myer Markets", as I'm trying to call them, since they're in the old Myer building). While this is still a new market and there's clearly still some development to be had, the idea is solid and it's already making the area more enjoyable.

There's a Level B intake coming up at work as well, for which I've dutifully put up my hand. Donna and I are, however, wondering if I'm temperamentally suited to being a Level B or whether something less customer-facing is a better plan. This was of course where Call Quality came in, but they've shown themselves to be seriously unprofessional by forgetting to email me at any point during the application process (even though everyone else was) or even to confirm that I didn't get the job there anyway. Not even considering that it's been more than a month since that process was completed.


Fun and Stun

Posted on 2010.11.02 at 19:13
Current Music: Culcha Candela - No hay mal | Powered by Last.fm
Last Friday, being the workday before Halloween (which I still maintain Australians shouldn't have to celebrate), was a dressup day to look terrifying at work. I have photos, which I'll eventually get around to uploading somewhere, but the number of people who really get into it is incredible.
Donna was a rather risque-looking devil, Mel was a dark angel-thing, Cookie was a succubus, there were vampires, ghosts, mad scientists and Frankensteins all over the place. I was going to organise something vaguely vampiric but didn't get the chance to, so I adopted the traditional "sheet over the head" ghost look, which got lots of laughs. Indeed, a photo of yours truly is on the highlight wall.

The highlight of the weekend was the final opera of the year, Verdi's "Aida". I'd never seen this performed, and knew surprisingly little of the music apart from the "Gloria all'Egitto" triumphal fanfare. The version Opera Queensland was running was marketed as a visual extravaganza, and it lived up to that billing. It genuinely seemed at some points as though the director just kept putting more and more members of the chorus on stage to show off - there was a "river Nile" on stage which people swam in, the moon rose and set, heiroglyphs turned up at various points and people walked in and out of what looked like pyramids. I can definitely see why this is such a standard work in the operatic canon, particularly the end of Act 2 which is up there with the best scenes in opera overall.

With the new month has come a new shift - of 7-3:30. It's a bit of a shock to the system, but it gets me home nice and early and means that the Christmas/New Year shifts will be kind again.


A bit of an update

Posted on 2010.10.26 at 07:35
Current Music: Asignatura Pendiente - Solos tu y yo | Powered by Last.fm
We haven't done an awful lot of late, since the weather's been quite bad. It's improving now, but wandering around in the rain isn't exactly high on my to-do list.

G'ma's been in and out of hospital, and seems to have finally accepted that she needs more help than she's been asking for before. I don't think she's particularly happy to be in that position, but she's certainly in better form than before.

There's been a "Multicultural Festival", which turned out to be quite an interesting experience. At one point, I remarked to Krista that only in Australia could there be a German-Australian and an Estonian standing around watching Bulgarian folk dance and eating Greek and Eritrean (yes, I said "Eritrean") food. Say what you want about multiculturalism, but the fun and food definitely gets my vote.

Since Eurovision's somehow decided to be held in Düsseldorf - the equivalent of holding the NRL grand final in Albury-Wodonga, for my Australian readers - we've decided not to go to it next year. This therefore means that our options open up a bit more, as I'm more likely to have four weeks' holiday by roughly this time next year. Estonia's on the agenda for obvious reasons, and I'm rapidly discovering that various bits of Scandinavia would actually work quite well.

My phone died a rather spectacular death, as well, and has been replaced by a very impressive new "Smart Phone". This phone has maps on it, as well as giving me the ability to download a currency converter and other clever things. The alarm is still a trifle loud, but I'm working on that bit.


I don't think that means what you think it means

Posted on 2010.10.05 at 07:00
Current Music: Madcon - Hate-O-Rade | Powered by Last.fm
A news reporter on Sky News this morning, talking about the death of a man who was tasered:

"There will of course be an investigation. These things are arbitrary when a death occurs."

I can handle people misusing "literally" ("he was literally flying down the road" - was he?), but this is probably reason to make journalists complete an English class before doing a live cross.

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