Motorbike camping and rock climbing

This weekend I went rock climbing in the blue mountains and camped for one night to test out a new tent that I bought on Friday. You can see my photos here. This is my third camping trip from the back of a motorbike. I’ve tried to acquire some high quality hiking gear over a few years for this purpose.

The tent I bought on Friday is a montbell 1-2 person 3 season tent (link). I walked into montbell in the Sydney CBD on Friday to get an umbrella and they had this tent for half price; they were trying to clear out old stock. The tent was pretty easy to set up, it didn’t matter that the instructions were only in Japanese. I had a fair bit of room inside. My only issue with the tent is if the outside door is pegged down it can make the entrance a little narrow/awkward. It is a 1 person tent but there is plenty of room for 1 person + backpack/gear or a tight squeeze for 2 people who know each other pretty well. My previous tent was just the cheapest hiking tent I could buy (basically it was around the $100 mark) because I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy camping and didn’t want to invest alot then. I was looking for second hand tents off Gumtree but it wasn’t easy to find a 1 person hiking tent for less than $100. On Gumtree most people were selling larger tents or 4wd tents that take up more space/weight. My old tent’s poles snapped the second time I used the tent. I was pretty pissed off with this. Overall I’m pleased with my new tent and I’m looking forward to getting more use out of it.

My other gear includes a thermarest neoair Voyager hiking mattress with an R rating of 2.2, I bought this second hand from Gumtree. This roles up to an amazingly small space. My sleeping bag is a Denali 400 duck down cocoon sleeping bag rated down to 6 degrees that I bought half price at Anaconda a year ago.

Last night I slept in my motorbike gear because I couldn’t be bothered changing. It probably got down to about 6 degrees and I didn’t feel cold at all. Often with my sleeping bag I have a tendancy to overheat but I didn’t last night. The airmattress was pretty comfy, it does squeak a bit when I move around on it though. When I was a bit heavier I’d find my sleeping bag to be a bit too restrictive, I’m glad I don’t have that problem anymore.

I think my next camping gear purchase will be a pillow; I’ve just been using rolled up clothes and I wake up with a slightly sore neck. I don’t have any cooking equipment, someone on the camp site last night had a little gas stove with a multipurpose cup/bowl/mug thing and it seemed like a good light weight option to add to my camping equipment. I might also keep an eye out for some climbing rope and extra gear, I currently have a harness and indoor shoes. I need to get a helmet and maybe some outdoor shoes. I currently use a hiking backpack on the back of my bike whick seems to work well as long as I keep stuff light and to the minimum, I might look into some hard case side storage for the bike too. I ride in hiking boots, these will prevent my ankles from rolling if I fall off the bike but are still comfortable to walk around in when I get off the bike. Riding boots aren’t comfortable to walk around in and using shoes for dual purpose cuts down on space. My boots are a size too large so I might keep an eye out for a smaller pair.

Do you do any hiking/outdoor rock climbing/camping from a motorbike? Do you have any hints/tips for keeping things light?

I don’t enjoy my job

I have a few issues with my current job:

  1. I feel insanely guilty for not finding my current role to be the most exciting thing I’ve ever done. I’m contracted out to a client, and I can’t officially say who the client is but there is just so much hype around this client for supposedly being the best tech company to work for and sometimes it doesn’t always match that hype. I find my work boring, a little repetitive and not exactly challenging me. However it’s meant to be the highlight of my career. And when anyone asks me, “how’s working at X?”, I feel like I should respond with, “it’s amazing…” and go on to list all of the amazing benefits.
  2. The scale of the Client makes it hard to feel like an essential part of a team.
  3. In my current position it would be nearly impossible for me to convert to a full time employee and I don’t even know if I want to pursue that path.
  4. My current employer isn’t as supportive of my conference speaking engagements as I’d like them to be.

 

Don’t get me wrong, there are many things I enjoy about the role;

  1. My favourite thing about my job is getting to tell people that I work on a product that nearly every one uses. I’ve always enjoyed working on tangible products.
  2. the free food/coffee barristers is pretty sweet too.
  3. Being surrounded by smart people who care about the products they are building.
  4. It’s an amazing thing for my personal brand

 

I also feel like I haven’t been in my current position long enough to really justify looking for a new job. I’ve only been on the Clients project for around 10 months. I know there’s a bit of a stigma for changing jobs too often. This thought also makes me feel like there’s something wrong with me for wanting to change. I’ve experience some mental stress in my current role that’s not really founded in much; from bouts of imposter syndrome to not being motivated to work.

I think I’ve come to realise that the following things would be important for me when I do look for a new job:

  1. Feeling a part of a well gelled team, I know this takes work and I always go the extra mile to build a team culture. My energy for work comes from other people. I’m not that type of “highly motivated self starter” person who is satisfied with the sit in the corner on a computer all day doing work type of role.
  2. Being in an environment where I feel comfortable being vulnerable. E.g. I’ve had struggles with depression so being open about mental health is important to me.
  3. Getting supported for community engagement, e.g. having speaking at conferences as part of my role would be an ideal thing to have.
  4. Be in a learning environment, there are many companies that say “we are constantly learning” but often don’t put that into practice. There’s often a disconnect between what companies say they do and what they actually do.

 

I think I’m in a really good position to be very picky about my next role. I can see 2 potential and appealing paths forward. Either get more technical or get more people oriented.
By technical I mean I could start leaning towards mobile app development, growing my interest in Data Science, picking up some more DevOps skills, get into test automation etc.
By people orientated I mean moving towards product development, maybe picking up some user research skills, maybe looking for something with a support focus etc. It would be awesome to incorporate some sort of outreach/education efforts as part of my next role.

While going through highschool/uni I worked in supermarkets for 7 years. I actually think that work was more engaging than most of my work in tech has been. I’m missing that strong connection to people in my current role.

So I’ll be keeping my eyes open to any new positions and I have a good sense of what I’m looking for.

Hackathon Fatigue

I’m currently participating in GovHack 2017 at the Sydney location (add a 2017 year in review link like this 2016 one when available). It’s the first hackathon I’ve attended this year. When I first moved to Sydney 4 years ago I participated in 4-5 hackathons the first year and it’s slowly died down since then. Even though I love the atmosphere, the community and the collaboration during hackathons; I am suffering from hackathon fatigue.

Last year at GovHack 2016 I tried to participate. I turned up to the opening evening but was struggling mentally. I was going through a relapse of depression and I could not hold it together enough to participate. Reflecting on this, I’d always walk away from a hackathon mentally exhausted and last year I was overwhelmed with the thought of “I can’t handle this stimulation right now”. Going back to work on the Monday after a hackathon always felt hard and would trigger an existential crisis week that involved continuous thoughts of, “fuck I’m tired”. It’s the combination of socialising with all of these new people, trying to frantically work on an idea and eating food that I wouldn’t normally eat that really throws out my routine/mood. I often turn up to work on Monday after a hackathon not rested and with a complaining digestive system. This is my first hackathon since my weight loss surgery which has put a control on the amount of crap that I can eat but I’ve still turned up to last day of the hackathon feeling exhausted. I’m all hackathoned out and I do not have the motivation to submit a story.

Do you suffer from Hackathon fatigue? How do you overcome it?

Too fat to climb

Have you ever thought, “I’m too fat/injured/old/lazy to do that thing”? “I’m too fat” is still a pretty common thought that I have even after losing nearly 50kg with the help of weight loss surgery. My partner suggested rock climbing as an activity we could do together. We were both obese when he put forward this suggestion and my initial thought was, “I’m too fat for that, I’m just going to fall but I guess I’ll give it a go”. I wasn’t very good on my first session but atleast I didn’t fall off the wall. I enjoyed it so much that I signed up for membership and I’ve been climbing now for 3 months. The progress is slow, I’m still on mostly level 0, I’m often the fattest person in the gym and I’ve even seen many first time climbers make more progress in their first session than I have seen in 3 months. But I try not to care and I’m still enjoying it.

Another activity that I’ve been exploring is running. I don’t like it much yet but I’ve heard people grow to enjoy it. I’m exploring the Nike Run app. I’ve had many failures trying to start this program but that’s ok. The first set back was a foot injury that’s pretty common with being flat footed. Went to my podiatrist, got some new inner souls and stretches for the injury. The second time I started the program I had too many other things happening that it just wasn’t sticking. This third time I started I got through 2 weeks of the program, dropped off a little in week 3 but atleast picked it back up for week 4. Talking about being too fat to run, I was researching tips for getting started. I came across a support group for fat people wanting to get into running. Once I get through this Nike Run getting started program I’ll look into joining too fat to run. Today my run involved running to grumpy doughnuts for a passionfruit filled doughnuts. OMG, was so yummy. Check out their Instagram here.

There are no secrets to living a healthy lifestyle. Try a bunch of activities to see what you enjoy. Get friends and family involved. The list of things that I’d like to try include; pole dancing, rowing, roller derby and swing dancing.

So if you find yourself saying I’m too fat, just give it a go and listen to your body. Don’t push yourself too hard and you might surprise yourself with what you can do.

The 5 elements of my health

I have 5 elements of health/well-being that are important to me and that have a huge impact on my overall well-being when just one is lacking. They all have cascading effects on my overall enjoyment of life.

First up is my physical health. To me this is what I eat, how well I poop, how much I exercise and how well I’m sleeping. One of the easiest ways for me to experience a minor relapse of depression is not getting enough sleep. My menstrual cycle creates natural high’s and lows that impact my physical health, e.g. some women get less sleep/irregular bowel movements during PMS or during menstration. It’s not generally a fun time. My bad ankle/sciatic nerve injury have contributed negatively to my physical health. I’ve caught a cold recently which is putting a little downer on this part of my health.

Next is mental health. This can be general satisfaction with life but is more often associated with depression. When I’m not going through a bout of depression I would say that I have good mental health. Mindfulness therapy has helped me develop my mental health but it’s something I can always work on improving this. My period is a good time for a mental health check, if I’m in a poor mental state I’m more likely to turn into a blubbering mess around that poor time of month.

I also have financial well being, social and sexual health in my list. I could classify sexual health as a sub component of physical health but I find it important enough to mention on it’s own. I feel really lucky to have a partner where I’m comfortable exploring this side of me, I will save you the details but it has been rare for me to find a partner that I can explore with ;). When I don’t have my financial well being under control I’m more stressed and can’t function as well. Social well being comes from friends and family. I have worked hard to develop my sense of community and I’m grateful for it.

Since my weight loss surgery I have generally felt more in control of my life and all elements of my health have improved. It’s pretty amazing. Now I’ve still had some hiccups and I’m working on some behaviour that I’d like to tweak but these hiccups haven’t caused any long term downward spirals yet and I hope that I continue to take life’s bumps and hiccups in my stride.

Some people might also consider spiritual health to be important but it’s not critical for me. What other elements of health are important for you?

Sammy’s dieting rant

TL;DR:
Try to eat a mixture of less processed fruit/vegies with less processed meats, try not to over do it with fats/carbs/sugar and you should have a pretty balanced diet. Also check out CSIRO’S total well being diet.

Now I don’t diet, it’s such a horrible word. I do try to live a healthy lifestyle and try to make healthy food choices, there are times where I go “F it, I want chocolate” and it’s ok to have those moments and not feel guilty about it. As long as I don’t do too much damage which having a smaller stomach helps control.

Lots of things are marketed as “healthy” when they aren’t. Learning how to read food nutrition labels is a good start. I look at ratios of fat to carbs to protein. I also look at ratio of carbs to fibre to assess if something really is “high fibre” if it’s trying to market itself as that.

Knowing that 1 tablespoon of sugar is 20 grams is a good guide for measuring how much sugar is in things e.g. fruit juice is horrible for sugar.

Understand that we are horrible at guessing how much we eat, even when calory counting we will still grossly underestimate serving sizes. You can combat this by using smaller plates and weighing out recomended serving sizes. We also have a tendency to eat more when we think something is healthy.

Fats and sugar aren’t really the enemy and protein is not this amazing thing just because everyone keeps raving on about it. Over consumption is the enemy, your body is an amazing self regulating machine.

Every cell in body needs sugar to survive, your body will convert carbs/fats/proteins into sugar (in that order) to support your body. Eat too many fats/carbs and your body will store it as fat, eat too much protein and you’ll have smelly expensive poo.

It doesn’t really matter if/how you skip meals. Intermittent fasting is a tactic that lots of people use to keep their overall food consumption low and stomach capacity down. E.g. I’ll often skip breakfast if I haven’t been to the gym in the morning. It doesn’t matter when you eat your large meals. There is a lot of misinformation out there around this though so tread carefully.

There are some things you can only get from your diet and they usually start with the name essential, e.g. essential amino acids (the building blocks for protein) can not be created in the body and need to come from your diet. This doesn’t mean essential oils are essential in any way though, that’s just misleading marketing.

Try to eat a mixture of fresh-ish fruit/vegies (nothing wrong with frozen) with less processed meats, try not to over do it with fats/carbs/sugar and you’ll have a pretty balanced diet. Processed foods tend to have higher amounts of fat/carbs because these are really tasty and these tasty enhancements help companies sell more food. If you need recipe ideas check out CSIRO’s total well being diet, it’s backed by science and isn’t the latest fad.

You can even try cutting out meat/dairy for a little bit if you are up for it. I’ve seen many people have success on the vegetarian/vegan diet. You don’t need to worry about protein if you are eating a mixture of things (e.g. peas, beans, legumes and nuts have some protein). Be careful with nuts though, it’s easy to over do because of the high fat content. I’ve challenged myself with periods of vegetarianism.

It’s easier to overconsume when alcohol is involved. I’ve challenged myself with dry periods when I’ve wanted to focus on my health.

Agile and Stress

I was having a chat with an old colleague on LinkedIn today (Brian Osman) and we were talking about Agile. The question was, “how does Agile at Tyro differ from <Client>*?” My conclusion was that by focusing on certain “Agile” rituals an artificially high stress environment can be easily created.

Here is this conversation:

Bosman:

Samster! How’s it going at EPAM? All good I hope 🙂 . Hey just a question – do you guys *do* agile and if so how does it compare to Tyro?

 

Samster:

There’s lots of people in EPAM who do agile but in the <Client> office in my little corner there is no mention of agile, no Kanban boards, no daily standups (in my team). Every team is encouraged to develop their own process. E.g. my manager at <Client> often doesn’t come into the office until 10:30-12pm so a 9am standup just wouldn’t work. He has kids and often works from home. I know the EPAM cloud support guys we have here in Sydney have standups and mostly deal with support tickets so their work is fairly regular.

So with my manager we have a sync doc that I fill out every day on what I’m working on with a breakdown of roughly how much time I’m spending on tasks. Roughly half my time should be spent on bug triaging and trying to mainstream that process across some of the Sydney teams (about 70 developers/designers/PM’s and researchers) and the other half of my time spent on helping those teams with feature testing. This sync doc is in place of a daily standup and we have a sync up once a week where we go through it and look for improvements. There’s no sprints, no regular retrospectives. The <Client> guys will tend to work based on quarters (3 month cycles). Higher up management will set certain goals for the quarter and every team will set their own goals that hopefully line up with those.

So atleast in my little bubble at <Client> there is very little”formal” Agile but product excellence is a heavy part of the culture.

The funny thing with Tyro’s agile is it didn’t really support flexibility. A bit of an oxymoron in a way.

The context of <Client> and Tyro is vastly different too. Often the guys in the Sydney <Client> office have to collaborate with people all over the world, so they will often have conference calls with guys from Mountain View in the morning, often taking these calls at home and maybe conference calls with India in the afternoon. I have a weekly sync with one guy in India who helps lead the team that is responsible for communicating with public transport providers. The ops team for <Client> project that I’m working on is based in Seattle.

On a side note, I have heard stories of <Client> bringing in agile experts for coaching/consulting to learn about it. They usually bring in the guys that write the books on the stuff because <Client> has that kind of pull.

 

Bosman:

That’s awesome! It’s something like I just read from a <Client staff member> and something I like…lower case agile. Figure out the problem yourself and make your own rules (but don’t break the law….and be nice!). Thanks Sammy! I’m writing a report for a team I’m coaching at <Somewhere> and they want to compare this with places like <Client>. I think they’ll be surprised 😊 .

 

Samster:

Yeah. Otherwise things are going pretty well. No one has kicked me out yet. There have been a few days where I felt I wasn’t good enough to be at <Client> but it wasn’t really as stressful as starting at Tyro was. I think a lot of companies aspire to have a culture like <Client> but that’s actually pretty expensive, but nicely liberating. I think companies also often miss the point of <Client>’s culture, I guess they see the free food and games rooms and think that’s all you need to emulate <Client>’s culture.

I think the whole point of agile, is the being able to adapt to a rapidly changing environment. In the context of <Client>, sure there are some areas of the business that are constantly evolving but focusing more on product excellence tends to put a slower spin on things. There’s a focus on facilitating fast feedback but it’s to help make work easier, not to adapt to the market. There’s no mantra of ship it quickly, but there is a huge amount of effort put into supporting engineers get new code into production. Even <Client> uses a giant spreadsheet of manual test cases for Android/iOS <Client> maps apps on top of all of their other checks and balances.

There is a lot of process involved with getting a new feature into <Client> maps.

Maybe the over emphasis on”Agile”, and adapting quickly creates an artificially high stress environment. There’s always this push to beat competitors to market, to get this work out the door this sprint, to be constantly, “Go Go Go”. People don’t function well under stressful situations and that constant stress can’t be that healthy.

 

Bosman:

I agree with your point …. I don’t know if they’ll meet their growth targets and I don’t know if staff will feel happy about being ALWAYS under the pump so to speak…

 

*<Client> = I work client side as a contractor. I can’t officially say who this client is (because contract) but I get to help test an android app you might use for mapping and navigation. The Client is pretty well renowned in the tech space.

40 kg down

I had weight loss surgery just over 5 months ago. I’m now down to 87kg which equates to 40kg lost. I’m starting to notice a bit of loose skin but I’m ok with that. This is what 40kg weight loss looks like in photos:

40kg down

40 kg loss side view

I still have another 8kg to go before I beat obesity and another 20kg before I’m no longer considered overweight.

Where’s your local experience?

We had an amazing Sydney testers discussion group today on sharing stories around our job hunting experiences. One comment that came up was on local experience and I wanted to elaborate a little more on it.

I would say there are atleast two ideas behind why someone would care about local experience. Unconscious bias and culture fit. I have helped with interviewing some people in my last company so I have some insights to share. I would say that unfortunately there is some bias against people who don’t have English as their first language. People will use the rationale of poor culture fit to justify their unconscious bias.

I would say that unfortunately in Australia we have a bias against people from India, the massive call centre outsourcing efforts have not left us with great impressions. So there is an association with strong accents and having many issues with communication. Someone who’s applying for a job here with an Indian background just has a few extra hurdles to overcome, it’s not really fair but by asking for local experience we can justify to ourselves that you wouldn’t be a good cultural fit. We also imagine that you might be coming from a larger hirachical corporate structure, where there is a lack of innovation/self motivation. We imagine that if you did have an issue with your boss here you wouldn’t let anyone know about it because that’s what we understand about your culture.

Cheats ricotta/paneer

You can make fresh ricotta* (or paneer) cheese from powdered milk. It’s pretty amazing and very easy. You can have fresh cheese in 5 minutes.

You will need:

Milk powder

Boiling water

Acid (up to a few tablespoons depending on strength) (e.g. citric acid, lemon juice, vinegar)

Cheese cloth/fabric cloth for straining cheese (I reckon a blue chux cloth would also work)

Optional:

Food thermometer

Use a 1:2 ratio of milk powder to boiling water. Boiling water helps quicken the process. E.g. if a recipe calls for 5 cups of milk to make Chena for a rasgulla recipe, I used 2 and 1/2 cups of powdered milk to 5 cups of boiling water. I also used 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of citric acid dissolved in 2 tablespoons of boiling water for this recipe.

Combine water and milk powder on a stove top set to medium heat. If it’s a little lumpy that’s ok, the stirring in the next step should help smooth it out.

stir the mixture until it gets to 95 degrees Celsius, or until it’s just boiling if you don’t have a thermometer

Add the acid

Stir and watch the milk seperate into curds and whey, you are now just like little miss Muffet

Poor mixture into your cloth over a bowl/container

Squeeze the cloth to get out extra fluid (this will be hot, be careful. You can cool it down by running it under cold water)

Optional: let it hang for 30 minutes

Voilà, you now have cheese and it took about 5 minutes to make.

*Technically it’s not ricotta as ricotta means twice cooked and it’s actually made from the left over whey from making other cheeses but I won’t tell if you don’t.

If the thought of making cheese is still a little daunting, I actually started with a mad Millie italian cheese making kit. This kit comes with all you need to start making cheese in your own kitchen, the ricotta/Mascarpone recipes are pretty similar. One uses milk and the other uses cream and Mascarpone takes a little longer to seperate.

You can reuse the left over whey as well, I usually don’t but a quick Google search will turn up many results from beauty therapy to gardening.