South Kensington walking

The following weekend Karyn & Brian’s friends Maree & Scott arrived after a two-month holiday travelling around Italy & Spain. They are crashing here until the find a place to live (they moved the following weekend, so Karyn & Brian only had a house full of Kiwis for a few days). We considered checking out Trooping the Colour but the weather was absolutely horrid, so gave it a miss, it will happen again next year anyway. Sunday we decided to check out South Kensington. Our walk took us past the Victoria and Albert Museum, Natural History Museum (this museum looks like it is worth a look through), up past various other buildings then around Royal Albert Hall (this was is the process of some major renovation, so taking photos and avoiding scaffolding was a little tricky). We moved on to the Kensington Gardens, it amazing how many people come out to go to the gardens when the weather isn’t even that great – I hate to see what it is like on a hot summer’s day. While at the gardens we checked out the various buildings and statues/monuments, Kensington Palace is decidedly boring.

Movie: Pearl Harbour – Enjoyed the movie but it was overly long, part one, cheesy love story; part two, the overly long effects heavy blow up Pearl Harbour part (you got the idea of how horrific the occasion was after about 5 minutes but it went on for probably 30); and part three, the not really needed but prerequisite lets be American and get our retribution bit – not totally terrible but I won’t see it again).

London Markets & Robot Wars

Last weekend Karyn & I (Keryn) decided to go to the markets for the day. We wanted to go to Spitalfields & Petticoat Lane Markets, but after surfacing from the tube and wandering around we quickly discovered that these markets were not open on a Saturday. We figured since we were in the City, with the intent on wandering around some markets we needed to figure out some markets that were in fact open. After a trip to a bookshop and looking through a London guides, we headed off to the Covent Garden Markets. I enjoyed wandering around these markets, the atmosphere was great, and there were heaps of street performers trying to make a buck plus lots of things to have a look at. Karyn & I made the mistake of getting a stuffed potato each for lunch – the mistake was we should have got one between us – they were huge.

That night we were off to dinner at a Greek Restaurant with Karyn & Brian and Jim & Gee. The food & service was OK, and the black stuff all over the table and plates was a bit dodgy, I think we will check out a different restaurant next time. Sunday involved a trip to Earl’s Court to see Tomorrows World Expo, about 2 football fields worth of stalls & displays of new inventions. I found my cat replacement while I’m over here, but it costs a wee bit – Aibo an electronic dog from Sony – it is really cool. There was also a Robot Wars stage set up at the back where they were filming an International challenge. We had seen some of these fights on TV and decided it would be laugh to check it out, so we bought tickets to the afternoon session. We got to see a few fights and got to see how they go about filming the interviews etc. The were filming for both the UK and American audience, so there were two sets of interviews and introductions, the American guy is a WWF wrestler and wasn’t too good at the interviews ’cause he kept on stuffing up and having to do retakes, while the UK presenter is Craig Charles (Lister from Red Dwarf). We also got to have a look out the back at all of the robots being fixed etc.

Movie: Shrek – Animation is amazing, several occasions for a good chuckle, all in all a really enjoyable movie.

Job Hunting

Right, we’re in London and we notice that our poor old NZ $ doesn’t quite go as far. This means we have to find work – what a mission that will turn out to be, at least for one of us anyway. The week following our visit to Camden markets started our job hunting. This mainly consisted of looking at various websites like JobServe and applying (generally via email) for jobs. Applying for jobs is a funny thing; generally you’ll apply and hear nothing. Occasionally you’ll get an email back from the agency saying they’ve put you on their books and every now and again you’ll get a call from a consultant asking questions or saying that your CV has been put forward for consideration.

I, being Brendon, had uncanny luck. Wednesday morning, 31st May, I got up about 6:30am and applied for ten or so positions. I got a call later in the morning from a consultant who asked a few questions and said that my CV was going forward to a company for consideration. I got another call later in the early afternoon asking if I was available for an interview the next day. This I of course accepted and all was going well. I got another call putting off the interview until Friday morning at 11:00am and that was that.

Not taking things for granted I applied for more jobs the next day and then on Friday duly got dressed up for my interview. Finding the place turned out to be reasonably easy (Piccadilly line to Kings Cross and then Central/Circle/Metropolitan to Barbican) and I arrived an hour or so early. So, I sat down and read through my crib notes on the company (Trillium – a big property management company, there’s more to it than that but it’s not important) before going in.

The interview was preceded by a half hour multi choice test that covered all sorts of computer related things – I never did find out how I did. The interview itself went very well, turns out the Trillium IT department runs the same sort of software that I had been using back at the Help Desk at Waikato University. They were urgently looking for someone and had a couple more interviews and I would have an answer as to whether I had the job by later that afternoon.

So, around 3:00pm I got a call from Genesis (the consultancy firm) saying I had the job. I had already decided I’d take it if it was offered, it was only a 2-month contract and it would be good to get some money in the bank. I was offered £17 an hour (which isn’t totally terrible but apparently I sold myself short) so that works out to £5100 before tax/VAT/fees etc – which isn’t bad really for two months work.

For those who don’t want to know the details of how the IT department works in Trillium, you can click here to skip the boring details, the rest can continue.

Trillium has about 700 users in total. About 2/3 of these people are laptop users all over the UK from Wales to Scotland, the rest are desktop users at various regional offices or based in Bastion House in London where I am based. I work at the IS Support Centre (ISSC) – the Help Desk, and take calls from users about everything from phone problems to software queries, remarkably like Waikato. All the computers are Windows NT based, whether laptop or desktop. There is one Mac in the whole company which is used for testing website compatibility. The voicemail system is CallPilot and just about everybody has a Meridian phone, which is all familiar to me.

Calls are logged using software provide by Royal Blue – it seems to be about as prolific as Remedy over here. Every user has an assigned machine name, a three letter abbreviated location designation followed by a three number machine designation, i.e. HWD001 for a machine based in Hinchley Wood. All machines are subject to a pretty stringent desktop policy, which means they can’t change or fiddle with much – which makes support really easy. Users cannot do much else other than use the applications installed on their machine; things like the desktop picture can’t be changed. Every machine also has SMS 2.0 client software installed on it so if there is a problem we just look up there machine number and connect and take over (when it works, SMS is quite dodgy at times). Users are only ever given standard User rights on their machine and their user profile is stored on a server – there are six regions so the profile is stored and accessed from the nearest regional server. Each user also has an U(ser) drive where all of there documents and email (Exchange personal folders) are stored, again stored on the nearest regional server.

The ISSC takes all calls for systems related problems and if we can’t solve it we either log it to ourselves to work on or pass it on to the relevant IT group. The ISSC also looks after the complete account management cycle – we create accounts using NT User Manager for Domains, Exchange Management Tool, and Cluster Administrator and by creating folders on the various shares in explorer. The ISSC also does server checks morning and night and manages backups and recovery (kind of like doing the Operators job from Waikato as well). This means I’m still learning stuff all the time, which is good. It also helps that all the desktops and laptops are provided by one company, Dell – if we need to fix a machine it is either replaced by Dell or we do a complete system reinstall from a Ghost image – 99% of the users files will be on their profile of home shares so they aren’t dependant on an individual machine.

The people on the IS Service Centre are all friendly – there are five of us in total – one of whom was away on holiday for the first two weeks and another who doesn’t take ISSC calls. Trillium (now Land Securities Trillium after a takeover) are in the midst of moving to Windows 2000 – the whole company will be moved to mostly new machines with Windows 2000 installed over the next few months.
Anyway, enough of me, over to Keryn’s experience’s. As I write Keryn doesn’t yet have a job after five weeks of looking. I suspect it’s because she doesn’t have a full work permit – or the market is a little slow at the moment. Anyway, she keeps applying and gets the odd call. Apparently the contract market is really slow at the present – one agency was saying that highly experienced contractors are dropping their rate in half just to get work. She has started looking for permanent positions also; some agencies won’t help because of the visa situation. If she still doesn’t have any luck in a couple of weeks, she will start looking for office work as well.

We’ve also done the requisite weekend trips and we seem to be going to the movies a lot. The cheap night at the cinema in Wood Green is Tuesday, where an adult ticket is £3, and a deluxe ticket is £4, we generally try to get seats in the deluxe theatre ’cause it really nice – the seats recline, there’s lots of leg room (Karyn with her legs outstretched can just touch the chair in front), the theatre has it’s own bar, and you can order food i.e. dinner and they will bring it to your seat.

Movie:
Mummy Returns – Really enjoyed it, similar feeling to the first movie but more special effects. A sequel that is better than the first.

The first Melbourne days

Hello,

We’ve been here in Melbourne for just over four days now. Melbourne is a lovely place (the perfect weather helps of course). We’re staying with Steve and Chris at their apartment on the edge of the central city.

We nearly didn’t make it at all, we went to the Flight Centre in Whangarei the day before we were due to fly out and found that our flight had been moved forward by five hours – always remember to give your flight consultant full contact details so they don’t ring a disconnected number. The flight itself was good and the customs department checks at either end were very smooth. There were no problems with luggage and we figured out our transport into Melbourne easily enough.

Anyway, we got here and found our way to Steve and Chris’s place from the bus station – a 15 minute walk. We talked for a bit and then went to sleep. Day one proper was a walk around the town center. This day also happened to be Australia’s nation Federation day centenary (100 years since Australia became a federation rather than a collection of independent states). In recognition there were celebrations all over the country and we hit a street parade.

The end of the Federation Day parade
The end of the Federation Day parade

The parade was two hours of floats, bands, local groups and processions all associated with the centenary. It didn’t all make sense but it was entertaining. We wandered around, had a look at a few shops and some of the local interesting architecture before we found our way home.

Daimaru, a large central city shopping centre
Daimaru, a large central city shopping centre

Flinders Street train station
Flinders Street train station

Day two

More wandering around town, and some of the smaller gardens around the city. Here we occupied ourselves taking photos of sculptures, fountains and a Faerie tree. We had a look around some of the more interesting buildings (like St. Paul’s & Patrick’s cathedrals) and bought tickets for a few things later in the week. Then it was off to the Melbourne zoo.

The Faery Tree - a stump carved with all manner of interesting creatures
The Faery Tree – a stump carved with all manner of interesting creatures

The zoo was nice but nothing really special – basically a bigger version of the zoo at Hamilton. It had some nice parts – the butterfly house was good and the zoo has a number of lion cubs that were running around when we came across them. Most of the animals seemed content to show us their behind and stay still however.After the zoo it was back home again, end of day two.

A Lion cub irritates mum
A Lion cub irritates mum

Day three

We had an early start, catching a bus in town at 8:15am. The bus took us through and out of Melbourne to a small town called Belgrave we got on to a steam train called Puffing Billy. The train travelled for half an hour, during which time we got to admire the scenery and sit on the rails with our feet outside the carriage (there were no windows, just bars. This equates to air-conditioning according to the bus driver).

Look, I'm a bird feeder!
Look, I’m a bird feeder!

Puffing Billy on the go
Puffing Billy on the go

After Puffing Billy we got back into the bus and continued on to Healesville Sanctuary. The sanctuary is home to lots of native Australian wildlife, such as kangaroos, wombats, snakes, hawks and platypus. This place was better than the Melbourne zoo, much more natural. The displays were generally good but many of the animals were asleep or hiding (never go to a zoo early afternoon). However, we were there for the highlight, a native birds of prey demonstration. We had a show that had one Kite, one owl and two eagles, one after each other. Each bird was free flying (with traces) and flew over and around the small stand where the crowd of people sat (at times touching people with their wings as they flew around).

A lazy Kangaroo
A lazy Kangaroo

A meditating wallabie
A meditating wallabie

Seeing these birds semi tamed flying and interacting with the trainer in question was great – they did tricks and everything ;-) After the birds we saw the Koala’s and then it was off back to Melbourne. And then home for another night.

A young Kite wanting some attention
A young Kite wanting some attention

Day four

Today started with a bit of a sleep in, which was nice. Then we set off by foot and tram to visit the Melbourne botanical gardens. Melbourne has 20% of its land set aside for fields and parks. The gardens themselves are 30 odd acres of themed areas with paths all over the place.

The Phoenix - another sculpture
The Phoenix – another sculpture

We wandered through for a couple of hours and took many rolls of photos. The highlight was the colony of Flying Foxes (bats) that have taken residence in one part of the gardens. The park wardens are actually going to be performing a cull soon as the bats are killing the trees they are roosting in. Having seen the numbers, the dead trees and listening to the loud noise we can understand why.

There were lots of Flying Foxes
There were lots of Flying Foxes

We then wandered back to the Yarra River, coming through the ANZAC memorial – a large stone building set on a hill. It was impressive and certainly was a place of peace and remembrance. After visiting there it was off to the river where we exchanged some of our previously purchased tickets for a boarding pass for a river cruise.

The crypt at the ANZAC Memorial
The crypt at the ANZAC Memorial

The cruise was relaxing but definitely overpriced. There was some interesting history but it was mainly sleep inducing. After the cruise we climbed on a tram and made our way to Melbourne University, where both Steve and Chris work. We had a small tour of the campus, including a look at a vertigo inducing 120 odd year old lecture theatre before taking some time to relax with a bottle of wine at the University staff club.

The club was nice and we had a few drinks with some of Chris’s workmates before heading off again to dinner in the little Italy area of Melbourne. We ensconced ourselves in a restaurant called Faradini’s. We had our (lovely and well priced) meals in a very pleasant environment. The service was efficient and friendly and we all enjoyed our meals. It was then walk and tram back home. We settled down and got comfortable to watch Buffy (they have it here!) before again heading off to bed.

Thursday is shopping day and Friday is rest day, with a few other things planned before we head back to NZ next Tuesday. We’ll have more around then.

Brendon & Keryn

Up in Whangarei

Hello,

We have installed ourselves in Whangarei safely – there’s still a lot of redistribution of boxes and other stuff but it should be easy from here. The cats survived the trip well enough, no real complaints. They seem to have adapted to the new environment no problem. We took them for a bush walk this morning and they had a ball of a time. Earl takes spontaneous sprints every now and again, I don’t think he knows what to do with all the space.

I got my UK Ancestry visa by courier on Saturday morning so I’m all set, we just need Keryn’s now. I’m getting her to fax the British High Commission today – they don’t seem to respond to anything else.

Paul – the address here is:
PO Box 422
Whangarei

To everyone that helped in some way, thank you. To those we didn’t get to say goodbye to, goodbye ;-) We’ll catch up again when we get back in a few years, if not sooner.

That’s all for now,
Brendon and Keryn