Saturday, 31 December 2011

My Thoughts on 2011 and hopes for 2012

More personal this posting

Professionally 2011 has been great:
  • I have a new boss in Fujitsu who sees the value I bring, and enables me to do what I do best.
  • UKOUG has changed and I am President of a great community with a great future.
  • I continue to speak around the UK and the world on Fusion Apps, with help from the ACE Program and the UX Advocates Program.
The friends I have made around the world have given me great highs, but towards the end of the year I also had a number of lows. I get quite lonely, which maybe because I rarely spend time at home, but also because my darling daughter of whom I am so proud graduated from university and is now at Sandhurst as an army officer, and really has flown the nest now. I love travel and love my job and I love my house, but I do need to decide what I want to do in the future.

So my wishes for 2012
  • Iron out the highs and lows (or rather drag the lows up)
  • Have the best 50th birthday ever (which I will because I am celebrating in Colorado with 42 of my best friends
  • See my daughter graduate from Sandhurst
  • Continue to enjoy my job
  • Get re-elected to UKOUG Council and stay on as President
  • Make more friends and stay friends with the ones I have now
  • Visit my best friend in Munster, Germany
  • Step down from the Product Development Committee IOUC and help someone else take over
  • Do more diving, and defiantly before the liveaboard I am doing in August
  • Find someone special would be nice but not sure I am ready for online dating

Friday, 30 September 2011

so Proud

Today my daughter is 23. I am so proud of her, 6 years ago she spent a week with the army for work experience. She came home and said she wanted to be an army officer.

That was the start of a long journey, the familiarisation visits to different areas to decide what part of the army, the tests, and finally the selection board, but 18 months later she was accepted and given a Place at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. She had 6 years to take up her place the intention being that she could go to university.

Government cuts meant the gap year the army offered her was cancelled, and later once she started officer cadets there were more cuts. Other people would have given up, but not her, she wanted this and no one else was going to stop her.

She did a volunteer stint in a school in the Dominican Republic where we sponsor children in their medical centre. She had a place to start a nursing degree 6 months later, but very soon after arriving at the school decided nursing was not for her. I love the fact she was brave enough to say so.

After discussing with the army she found a degree that suited her interests, in outdoor activity management. The degree itself was very business focused, the running of the industry and the educational value of outdoor pursuits. Her first year was difficult, not the course she loved that, but the university itself was in a fantastic location but not really a university setting and she felt she was missing out on university life. Worse was that she was unable to be an Officer Cadet as it was too far from her designated base. Again she didn't give up, and moved universities, but first she took time out.

The course required a placement in the industry, not very much a few hundred hours, but she wanted to do something more worthwhile. She found, applied for and was successful in getting a place on an internship with the Australian Outward Bound organization. 9 months but she loved it, learnt a lot about herself and the industry and gained qualifications in many activities. I remember the day she rang to tell me she was abseiling, and how nervous she was. "why?" i asked, "you have done it before" ; "yes but this time I am tying the knots" she laughed.

All too soon and she was back, and within 6 days had celebrated her 21st and started at a new university for year 2, another brave move. She joined the cadets with enthusiasm and over the next two years added sailing and running to long list of achievements. She took part in many adventures including army biathlons and Cowes week. She finished her degree and even going to university was nothing neither me or her dad had ever done.

This summer she had her final tests with the army and there was a little health wobble that threatened to scupper everything. She was devastated and had to wait two weeks for a follow up during which she was marching with the army in Nijmegen. But the medical went OK everything was cleared and the big career was back on.

Then one of my proudest moments, taking her to Sandhurst. She was so excited and so nervous. It is a years training, it is hard, relentless but she will be great at it.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Miss You Mum

I finally created a photo book of my mum and dad, just this week almost a year since she died. It was a humbling experience looking back at what they did for us, and the memories it invoked.

My dad always smiled and my mum had a sense of fun in her photos I would never have articulated, perhaps they had more in common than I thought.

I am not going to regret anything, life is too short but I want to say I love them and hope they are as proud as me as I am of them.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

One Big Step For Me

I have just passed my PADI Open Water, which now allows me to dive with my friends. No big deal thousands of people take and pass this every week, but for me it was a big deal, because I am a complete coward and a dedicated worrier.

The reason for taking up diving is very personal and covered in another blog, but the story of the course can be shared. Once I decided I wanted to do it, I talked to my many friends, and yes there are lots but four were very special in me actually going through with it.

D is a diving instructor in his spare time, and he talked to me a lot about what was involved. I trust him 100% and would so loved him to have been my instructor, but he lives in Chicago and I am in the UK, so logistically not very practical. But I did want him to be part of it, and in February this year when I was staying with D and his family, he took me for a Discover Diving session in his local pool. Where I got the opportunity to try it. I was very excited, and couldn't wait to get into the water, but as soon as I started breathing underwater, i wanted to come back to the surface, breath deeply and then try again. Would another instructor be as patient as D? He put up with my panic but not long later I was in the deep end, playing with water toys and the breathing was natural.

That weekend D and more of my friends were going diving in some mines, previously I would have been content to go along and watch but now I had tried it, I wanted to be in with them, and not being qualified that would not be possible, so I stayed away.

A really close friend L dives a lot, and in the UK, and she kept telling me I could do it. She tells me every weekend how much fun it is. I think she took up diving when she started seeing her boyfriend, many years ago to spend more time with him. She is always encouraging me.

One of my best friends M, dives whenever he can, and has a love for ice diving, I am not sure that is high on my list, but agian he is very supportive and when I told him this was my challenge he promised we will all go diving together one day. Now I really look forward to that.

The final friend I want to menton is S, he set himself the same challenge this year but for a completly different reason. He knows how I felt about it, and just a few weeks ago when we met up he told me all about the experience he had doing his Open Water in Hawaii.

My intention was not to tell D and M, they are very special friends and I wanted it to be a surprise for them

Monday, 2 May 2011

Davy Jones Diving - Gran Canaria

I found Davy Jones Diving using a google search, I was looking for a PADI Open Water course that I could take the week after Easter; location wasn't my biggest concern. My search gave me a few options but what made this the winner was how quick they responded to my email, and how helpful they were with all the logistics.

Davy Jones Diving is in Playa de Arinaga in Gran Canaria, it is owned by exPat Brian Goldthorpe and it was his wife Marilyn that won me over. She explained I would need to be here for 5 clear days, 4 for the course and another as you can't fly home for 24 hours (not quite true, your insurance probably says 24 but the answer for the exam is 18). She didn't laugh when I asked what airport I needed ( they only have one), and she recommended an apartment just a few minutes walk from the diving centre, she told me that there were plenty of 5 star hotels but all I would want to do would be sleep, so she recommended the apartment.

I flew from Gatwick with Easyjet, not quite a 4 hour flight, and the taxi was less than 20 euros to the apartment. Marilyn had thoughtfully sent me a map but the one way system got the better of the taxi driver but luckily she had also sent the telephone number of the owner, so panic soon aborted. The apartment was a basement flat, very minimal but cool and ideal. It could sleep 6 but I guess 4 would be ideal. It had a TV but there were no English channels but there was a computer with Internet access so I was all set. The kitchen area boasted a fridge freezer, toaster, kettle and hotplate.

I arrived early evening and after being helped into the apartment I was given instructions to the local supermarket which is open till 9pm and only about 5 minutes walk. Shopping done, fridge stocked and it was down to last minute manual reading ( again Marilyn had given me the information about what to do in advance, to be best prepared).

On my first day diving I was collected, and shown the way, in fact the dive shop is only a few hundred metres past the supermarket, so very close. I was in a group of 4 novices, the other 3 being a family, two brothers 15 &17 and their sister who was almost 13. We met our instructor Uwe, German by birth but adopted Australian. He talked us through the program and sat us down to watch a video, to cover sections 1 & 2 of the manual. I was a little bit frustrated by this as I had done knowledge reviews for this already but it did serve to calm the nerves a little. Then we did some quizzes to show we had taken it all in, and it was time for lunch. I had made myself a sandwich but there are a few shops nearby if you want to go out and get something. The diveshop provides tea and coffee.

Then time to gear up, and like most novices I was hiring gear, you can't expect an exact fit and I certainly didn't get one. I had a man's wetsuit which was not very pretty but it did the job. I think when the time comes I may invest in made to measure. Then it was off to my first dive. This Open Water Dive was really about seeing how we did with the basics and to show us just how beautiful underwater could be.

Uwe and Brian
We went to Risco Verde and Brian joined us. I had done a Discover Scuba Dive before in a swimming pool earlier in the year, so I was not too nervous, just very excited. My biggest issue was I simply couldn't propel myself, let alone swim underwater. I also had problems breathing out of my nose to equalise my mask and clear it. I found that strange as I had had no issues in the pool with my mask. I also struggled to descend which they decided meant I needed more weight. Anyway it was a lovely dive, we saw a lot of fish and I loved it. When we got out it seemed quite early only about 3.30 but I was so tired. The weather was ok about 20' C and the water just 1' cooler, I wasn't cold at all.

Graham and Uwe
The dive shop has wifi so I was able to tweet my progress to friends. There is also a computer for those who need access. One of the things I liked most was the relief map on the wall to show where all the dives are. It really made it all seem real.

As soon as I got back to the apartment I had a 2 hour siesta, bliss. We had homework, they wanted the knowledge reviews from sections 1,2 & 3 and as I had a head start I only had to finish 3.

The Swimming Pool
Day 2 we were warned would be the hardest. We started with confined water dives, normally these are done in swimming pools, but here they are blessed with a natural swimming pool in the sea. The first thing we had to do was swim 200 meters. I swaim a fair bit, but only breast stroke and this fin business was getting the better of me. I did do the swim, in fact I did more than 200 meters as I went drastically off course and another instructor Graham had to come and tell me to turn around. I think compass use should be earlier in the course!

The it was drills, masks on, masks half full, masks fill, masks off, all under water. Change regulators, descend, ascend, hover and fin pivot. The buoyancy drills were qute difficult for me and I ended up with 13kg of weight, which had it's own problems. This time my mask drills were excellent so no idea what caused the issues yesterday.

After lunch back at the shop it was time for another Open Water Dive, this one was further away at Playa Del Cabron over terrain I could only describe as like hard paved sand dunes, very bumpy but finally we reached our destination. My biggest problem this dive was still buoyancy and swimming. By this time Graham and I had become a great team, his patience was great. I understood all the theory and most of my drills were good, if only I could get the buoyancy and swimming sorted.

It was much later when we returned and everyone was exhausted, but no rest, I was sent off with an additional manual for sections 4 &5 using dive computers rather than tables. I couldn't even read the manual I just went straight to bed, I was exhausted. The biggest aches were in my upper arms, totally numb. But I was up early the next day and caught up with the book work.

Back to the swimming pool for more drills, taking the weight belt off and back on both on the surface and below water, and then the same with the Buoyancy Control Device ( jacket). Despite the heaviest belt in the world I managed this ok and even did a 2nd attempt as I had the belt on upside down. We did a lot more buoyancy drills and I was getting better, although I did have a little panic in this dive, I wanted to go up, but Graham just calmed me down until the feeling passed and I carried on. You need a lot of trust to learn diving, but all the instructors quickly earnt it.

After lunch we had another Open Water Dive, back over the dunes to the farest point on what is known as Cal Steps. The weather had turned and the sea was quite rough. The most difficult thing by far was getting in and out of the water. I have a bad wrist, and it is important you tell your instructors up front, they carried my equipment and led me into the water so I didn't risk falling over. This time we used compasses to plot direction and at least I didn't waste energy with being off course this time.

We did lots more drills and emergency ascents, again I struggled because of all the weight. I was only on 12kg today but it was too much really. We were only in about 7 meters of water and yet it took me 3 attempts to ascend without taking a breath in. Both Graham and Uwe decided it was not just the weight but also my jacket was too big. As my buoyancy skills had improved I could ditch some weight finally. So everything was coming together except for the swimming.

Back at the dive centre, I did the final quizzes and had my last knowledge reviews marked. All I had left for the 4th day was my final dive and the exam. I would be doing this on my own as the family were having a day's rest. I had another siesta and an early night, so I could get up and revise from the manual before the big day.

Graham was to take me for my final dive, Uwe was in the same place but with a couple who had done their Open water previously in Egypt and this was their first qualified dive. His advice was it is better to learn somewhere like Gran Canaria, where it isn't perfect conditions like you find in the Caribbean or Egypt, otherwise you will find the less than perfect locations difficult. I did get a bit of a wakeup call, when this couple struggled to remember everything they had learnt, and they came out before me, it important to practice afterwards, and not just say, done that.

The final dive was at Table Top and like all the others part of the Le Cabron Reserve and the plan was to go down to 18 meters, however that was to be quite a swim and realistically would I manage it? There were only a few drills which I did quickly and with only 9kg and a smaller jacket, the buoyancy was so much better. The swimming was also better, still no style, (and thank you Graham for the video) and still very laboured but I was moving. Although Uwe was not officially my instructor he stopped, looked back at me and signalled well done, I was so pleased. Encouragement like that means so much. I also was using a computer and it was really interesting to me as a part time computer geek to have all the stats in front of me.

All OK on my last dive
I made it to the 18 metre mark and it opened up a whole new world. I saw an angel shark in the sand, Uwe pointed out the outline in the sand and Graham carefully removed sand until I could see part of it. I saw many beautiful fish, a m eel under a rock , an amazing spider crab, and I spotted a barracuda swimming over Graham as we did our safety stop on the way back.

It was by far the best dive, I finally mastered the buoyancy and could enjoy more of my surroundings. Then it was back to the shop, deflated as I had  finished the diving, but quietly confident I would be ok on the exam, having said that I had to guess the very first question, bt then settled down into the 50 questions. The pass mark is 75% and I got 93%. the ones I got wrong were ok, and one was the 24hours I mentioned at the start. Then it was time to print my certificate, finish my log book and all the paperwork and pay.

Playa de Arinaga
The day after I was sad not to be going to the dive centre, but took the opportunity to spend the day in the town. It is not a tourist centre at all, and is more popular with locals. There is a lovely promenade to walk around for a few miles and everyone seemed friendly. Unfortunately my plan to sit out in the sun all day soon faded when the rain started.

I can't recommend Davy Jones highly enough. If you are looking for a dive holiday or to do training check it out. The instructors were brilliant and the only down side was finishing, although the euphoria of having passed made up for all that.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Exchange Visits Are Not Just for The Young

I recently had this published in my local paper about a trip with my silversurfers.

Two residents of Chisholm Court in Ballyclare travelled to Copenhagen last weekend for an exchange visit that came about from their IT Classes.

Originally started by Citizens Online until funding ceased, currently three residents get together informally to learn IT to ensure they have ‘digital inclusion’. They have used their basic IT skills to keep in contact with fiends and family who have left the area, research holidays and understand what help is available for them in all areas of life.  Debra Lilley, the volunteer sourced by Help the Aged (now Age NI), works for Fujitsu and her role takes her around the world speaking at IT conferences. The group track her using email, Google and her blogs. 

Last year Debra took part in some IT videos for a Danish Company Miracle AS with their CEO Mogens Nørgaard and the group were fascinated by the technology could do and later struck up a friendship with Mogens. He believes that everyone who can should help people to help themselves and in 2008 appeared in the Danish Version of ‘The Secret Millionaire’. He was inspired by the concept of bringing IT to this community and last June he visited Chisholm Court to see for himself where he met Rita Greer and Jean Mottram. (photo 1, L-R, Rita Greer, Mogens Nørgaard, Jean Mottram)

The contact has continued and late last year he was telling the ladies about how his home library was now finished except for cataloguing the books. The lady he didn’t previously meet, Katie Kane (68) was until she retired a librarian here in Ballyclare and soon it was arranged that they would visit Copenhagen to sort out his library. Katie and Rita, who is celebrating her 80th birthday, travelled with Debra and as well as sorting, and storing all the fiction books, they created the plan for the non fiction books. With their help Mogens selected Apps for the iPhone that will scan the ISBN barcode on books and catalogue automatically. They looked at old book collections and even discovered a document tucked inside a book from the German Army instructing their troops on how to behave when skiing in Norway soon after the 2nd world war, a real treasure that Mogens is now investigating further.

As well as the library project they visited Miracle AS and tried out the directors office for themselves and then had a tour of the city which included the Royal residences which where full of excitement and celebration as their visit coincided with two new additions to the Danish Royal family, a twin boy and girl. They also visited and worshiped with the local Lutheran Church (Măløv) where they were shown around by the minister, Michael Andersen. (photo 2, L-R, Katie Kane, Rita Greer, Michael Andersen, Debra Lilley)

Monday, 3 January 2011

Friends and Family

From time to time there is an online discussion about who should you accept as a friend on facebook and my answer is one I saw given once, that it is someone I would welcome into my home.

There are of course my friends that have nothing to do with my work; my family, neighbours from the past and friends from my church, but this post is about those I meet through my travels and role in the Oracle community.

My friendship definition doesn't mean I always know the people that well, it means that they interest me and I would like to explore that further and would welcome them into my life. I haven't always been like that, my daughter taught me a very valuable lesson a few years ago when she showed me how shallow I was. She came with me to a conference in Finland and not being in IT the conversations she had with everyone were about them. As the week progressed I realised she knew far more about my 'friends' than I did. I only knew their professional side. now I hope I look beyond that and get to know the real person. I wrote about how humbling that is and some of the truly inspirational people I count as friends today.

One of my best friends today is Lisa, a girl I work closely with and I knew NOTHING about her. Another friend described her and I made the effort to really talk to her. How close I came to missing out on this very special friendship.

I am also a worrier and one thing I worry about is do my friends think the same about me? Earlier in my life I remember having so called friends who when I met their wives (I have always worked in a male dominated world) they played the friendship down. A few times that really hurt, did it mean they were shallow, or were their own relationship with their wives that fragile they were threatened by having female friends? So as  a worrier that has always been my yardstick for a friendship.

When my marriage failed, I turned to my friends and have had so much support, but not being married made me worry about being a problem. Perhaps again I was being too simplistic, I haven't changed, I have always been a 'touchy feely' person, but I still think a marriage or any committed relationship is sacrosanct and would never overstep that mark. Luckily I have learnt that my friends aren't shallow and that their friendships are true.

My work that allows me to travel, means I do meet a lot of their families who sometimes travel as well, and I am so blessed by this, and I don't expect they know just how much that means to me. Then there is facebook, I often say why I like facebook so much and yet another thing it gives me is the ability to meet their families in a virtual setting, and that takes away much of that 'hidden friendships' I worry about.

I found this photo a few weeks ago, it was taken more than two years ago. In both cases, I first met their wives via facebook and have since been a guest in both their homes. In the second case just a few months ago in person, although we once had a facebook conversation about ovens. Never underestimate how much this means to me. I have other friends whose families I know only through facebook and hope I will get the opportunity to meet.

At this start of a new year I, like most people look back, and I would say 2010 has been a very special year. Yes I had two big setbacks, I was divorced and later lost my mother suddenly, but I also felt the love and support of my friends. In fact I went to visit a very special friend just a few days after my mum died and was given the strength to go on. When I returned home there were many cards at my house and as I put them on the mantelpiece there were 3 special photos there; my daughter who is my world, a picture with me with traditional but no less important friends from Guernsey,  and a similar one to this of me with 3 of these special friends I have met through work. I have met all their partners over the years.I took great comfort from these pictures.

So don't read this and think 'she needs help', I don't I have all the help and support I need from my friends. Real friends and I thank them for letting me into their lives at whatever level and pray that in some small way I can repay them.