Stories from the road: Camembert and Fig

Kettle special edition camembert and fig

The last time were were at the Gold Coast, one of my travelling companions picked up a packet of Kettle chips. Camembert and fig flavoured, Kettle chips. I had a few, and they were surprisingly nice. I’ve never knowingly had camembert cheese before, so I can’t tell you whether they tasted like actual camembert, but they were definitely cheesy. All the while still having that satisfying crunch typically associated with Kettle chips.

I’m no foodie, as I’ve said before, but at the time I had no idea what flavour they were. I asked my friend, and he told me the flavour. Intrigued by the taste, and eager to taste it again, that kicked off a search for the chips when I was back in Brisbane. I must have visited over a dozen Coles, Coles Express, Woolies, and Woolies Metro stores in Brisbane over the course of a fortnight before finally giving up and declaring that it was simply not possible to purchase the blessed chips in Brisbane. From what I remember, they were even showing up as not available online.

Fast forward a couple of months, and we’re back at the Gold Coast, this time staying over the weekend as another kind of getaway. Out of sheer curiosity, I visit the same Coles where we bought the chips in the first place, and lo and behold, there they are. The chips that were seemingly impossible to obtain in Brisbane, just sitting on a shelf in a Coles on the Gold Coast. I wouldn’t have believed it unless I saw it with my own eyes. And, as luck would have it, they were even on special.

It wasn’t until much later that I learned the true pronunciation of camembert, much to the amusement of the friends I was talking to at the time. To their credit, they didn’t immediately ridicule me, not even after I mis-pronounced it twice.

Twenty Nine

Genshin Impact character Qiqi at level 29 and almost at level 30

When did things get so hard?

Yours truly:

With every year that passes, every birthday post that isn’t posted on my actual birthday because I continue to make up reasons as to why I can’t seem to post things on any sort of schedule that have nothing to do with the real reason I can no longer post on my actual birthday, I find myself becoming increasingly worried that time is running out. I don’t think it’s because I’m afraid of getting old, per se, it’s just that I realise have less time to do the things I might want to do.
No one wants to wait until they’re old and frail to travel the world, but when you’re young, you often have a different set of priorities which mean it can be hard to find the right balance between having a career you’re happy with and still have enough time to yourself to do the things you want to do. Everyone’s time is limited, and I get that, but it can be hard to find the balance between finding out who you are, and just being yourself.

But who hasn’t? Who hasn’t thought that they work too hard, and live too little? What, you think you’re unique or something?

It’s not as if I’m not doing things, either. I do things that help me accomplish my goals — executing strategies in real life, just like I do when I’m trying to destroy the other team’s ancient in yet another game of Dota 2 — but often, it feels as though I’m not moving fast enough. I know that there are no shortcuts a lot of the time, but it’s still frustrating to be moving at a glacial pace when you want to be sprinting. We’ve been through all of this before, so I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but it’s something I think about when I’m writing melancholic blog posts reflecting on another year gone by.

It’s 2021 now. This post was originally drafted in 2020, but after that year that was, it’s only getting posted now for certain reasons I’m sure you’ll understand. 2020 was a heck of a year, and definitely not for the right reasons.

As if 2020 wasn’t already hard enough, I asked myself some tough questions. How do I become a person that I’m proud to be? How do I stop being jealous, obsessive, or so judgemental? How do I become a loving husband and dedicated father, should I ever find myself in that position? Is there a book for that? Some Medium post I can read? How do I know what I want out of life? Can I watch some inspirational YouTube video and instantly get all the answers?

Of course not. That would be too easy, and as I’ve been saying, life isn’t really like that. Besides, YouTube is filled with conspiracy theories and algorithms that are designed with engagement in mind but somehow end up you showing you videos from Linus Tech Tips, and Medium, well, Medium is paywalled to such an extent that I have not one, not two, but several different methods of bypassing it.

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The FaceTime Interview

Sliding glass door entrance to Next Byte Hobart, circa 2008

At its peak, the Australian Apple Premium Reseller called Next Byte had more than 20 stores nationally, and I spent the tail end of my high school and all of my uni-going years at just one: Next Byte Hobart.

Today, the Apple landscape in Australia is a lot different to what it was over a decade ago. Thanks mostly to the iPhone, Apple is now one of the largest companies in the world. Apple owned-and-operated retail locations compete with general electronics retailers, who now sell Apple products more out of obligation rather than any real profit-chasing exercise. But as any reseller will tell you, slim profits on Apple products means it’s extremely difficult, if not outright impossible, to match Apple when it comes to the unparalleled customer experience that Apple Retail locations are able to offer. Any third-party Apple presence is either small enough to fly under the radar, or niche enough to carve out a market of their own. For the rest of us, Apple retail stores in every capital city CBD besides Melbourne, Darwin, and Hobart means out in-person sales and service needs are fulfilled, with any gaps covered by Apple’s online store and mail-in repair programs.

I have plenty of stories from my time at Next Byte. Maybe one day I’ll even write about a few of them, once I’m a little more comfortable the statute of limitations has passed. In the interests of becoming a better storyteller, the one I’m going to tell you today is about the time I was went for an interview at my current place of employment. Which, now that I think about it, has happened more than once.

It’s maybe 2012, or thereabouts. I forget the exact year, but can estimate it based on the technology available at the time, and the rough timing of documentation of what would eventually be known as the Learning Academy.

Towards the end of my tenure at Next Byte, my role on Saturdays was to run the Learning Academy, a small-group based education scheme designed to give Apple product owners a leg up learning what their new hardware and software was capable of. The classes offered ranged from macOS/iOS essentials, which offered a just-the-basics introduction to the Mac/iPhone/iPad, to more specific lessons on iPhoto, iWork, and other Apple software.

It was the ideal role for me. I had never been all that interested in being the pushy salesperson type, and by virtue of only working one day a week — we weren’t open on Sundays, a peculiarity for an Apple Premium Reseller located smack-bang in the middle of the CBD of a capital city, but I guess that’s Hobart for you — almost never made enough sales to make the commissions worth it. I think I can count on one hand the amount of times I made commissions based on sales. Being the training facilitator meant that I wasn’t “stealing” sales from the other guys who otherwise relied on sales and their commissions to support themselves and their families, while also allowing me to do something I actually cared about1. It was a win-win.

Anyway, although my position and job description didn’t change noticeably, the powers that be still wanted to interview me to see if I was suitable for the role. That was kind of a problem, given that our head office was based in Brisbane, and I was in Hobart. Flying prospective candidates in for interviews seemed like a big ol’ waste of money, so they ended up suggesting FaceTime interviews. Mostly so they had some confidence that the person they picked for the job was able to speak English and knew what they were talking about, I think.

The interview happened during a random weekday that I happened to be working for some reason or another. It wasn’t uncommon for me to work weekdays, either during school holidays or in-between uni semesters, but it happened. We didn’t really have offices with doors, so I found myself sitting at the store manager’s iMac at the back of house, separated from the main sales floor by a wall that was more of a partition, seeing as it didn’t connect with the ceiling and thus allowed sound to carry between the sales floor and back of house easily enough.

I don’t remember much about the actual interview, but I can remember that whoever interviewed me wanted me to talk for a few minutes about something I really like about Macs. I don’t even remember what I talked about, but it was either Spotlight and the many things it could do besides just finding things, or it was about the menu bar, how the menus changed depending on what application had focus at the time, and how it was one of the biggest differences to using a PC. (So-called “switchers” made up a significant portion of our customers, given that the iPhone’s rampant popularity had plenty of people interested in the kinds of computers that Apple made.)

Whatever I talked about, all I remember is acing that interview. Any nerves I had dissipated once I started talking about something I was familiar with, confident in my knowledge of, and knew well enough that I could add in a few phrases that demonstrated how well I could talk to people in a small group setting. I was eloquent, knowledgeable, and presented myself in an approachable, friendly way — in other words, exactly the kind of person they wanted to lead small group training. I might have been a nerdy shut-in the other six days of the week, but holy hell, did I know Spotlight. Or the menu bar. Not difficult topics, to be fair, but still, I get the feeling that the interviewers were impressed with my knowledge and delivery.

You already know I got the job. And, even though they weren’t willing to fly people to Brisbane for that initial interview, they ended up flying all the trainers from Next Bytes all over the country to Brisbane twice in the next two years, both of which I’ve written about previously.

The rest, as they say, is history. I have other Learning Academy stories, and might even recap one of those Brisbane trips one day. But that’s for another time.


  1. Not that I didn’t care about selling Apple products, but too often I felt that it wasn’t really what I wanted to be doing. Obviously, I understood that selling Apple products was part and parcel of working at an Apple Premium Reseller, but I never really felt that I was ever as focused on ever-increasing sales figures and profits as those that ran the store were. Sure, a lot of the time, Apple products sold themselves. But I always hesitated to be the pushy sales person. It just kind of worked out that a lot of the time, I didn’t have to be, and I was extremely grateful for that. 

The Liked List, 2020

Instapaper has this concept of publicly-viewable profiles of everything that you’ve liked via the read-it-later service. Mine is here. They’re good for seeing the kinds of reads I’m “liking” from around the world wide web, but the problem with them is that there’s often no context about why I liked a particular piece. Did I think it applied to my particular circumstances? Or did it strike a chord and resonate with a certain part of me? Or was it simply well-written?

Three years ago, I started a thing where I posted a dozen or so of my favourite reads of the year, out of all the stuff that I liked in Instapaper over the course of the year. The idea is that they’ll give you a little extra context about reads I think are worth your time, that you may not have discovered yourself via your own organic sources. Blogging may be dead, but that doesn’t mean you can’t find extremely compelling reads on the internet. So without too much more preamble, I present to you: The Liked List for 2020. In somewhat reverse chronological order of when I liked it, and excluding extremely popular stuff you’ve probably seen elsewhere, or stuff that I don’t think is noteworthy enough to write about…

  • How to let go of a lifelong dream
    This piece from Pysche isn’t so much about giving up your dreams, as it is about aiming for something more realistic. It’s about asking yourself the hard questions: if you haven’t already achieved your goal, how much longer is it going to take? How much longer are you going to be unhappy, consumed by an ideal that may not ever eventuate, but not through a lack of trying? It talks about the difference between obsessive passions that consume you, and harmonious ones that fit well into your life, as well as the most important part: re-focusing that energy and passion into something else.

  • The Premium Mediocre Life of Maya Millenial
    I’m so glad I didn’t write this year’s Liked List too early, otherwise I might never have read this piece from 2017 about premium mediocre. Yes, it’s very 200-IQ stuff about superfluous features that are, a lot of the time, more for show than serve any real purposes. Premium mediocre discusses how at the core of it, outward appearances are now just as important, if not more so, than the core thing itself, and how that has given the middle class a new level of upper-middle class to strive for, while they’re striving to be upper class.

  • What Really Makes Us Happy
    Although we may sometimes desire the premium mediocre, this article says that if we want to maximise happiness, we need to prioritise experiences over appearances. I feel as though we’re altogether too quick to judge on appearances alone, and while they’re important, they’re often not the be-all and end-all. That run-down house on the hill might have serious character and charm inside, and the bland-looking meal might be just as tasty, satisfying, and filling as the one that looks good. Oh, and go and watch Soul on Disney Plus.

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Christmas Cards

A collection of Christmas cards with hand-written, personalised messages

I did hand-written Christmas cards this year. It’s the first time I’ve really given out more than one card at a time, outside of birthdays or special events. I just think it’s a nice thing to do, after the year we’ve all had, and by writing supremely positive, personalised messages in each of the cards, it’ll be that little end-of-year pick-me-up to see all my favourite colleagues into the new year.

For the longest time now, I have had an unusual fascination with hand-writing things. While it’s usually faster and easier to use a keyboard to type something out, when it comes to giving things a personalised touch, it’s hard to go past something more personal than your own handwriting. What better way to convey your thoughts than pen to paper, written by your own hand, in a form that’s uniquely yours? Handwriting is that unique indicator that whatever words were written, they were something you personally produced, not something that was just printed out by a millions of tiny droplets or particles, a process that required very little effort on your part.

I’m not sure why I’m so attached to hand-writing things. I guess part of the reason is because in the modern world we live in, where everything can either be tapped out by two thumbs on glass, or on the loudest mechanical keyboard money can buy, writing something with pen on paper feels different somehow. Not necessarily any better or any worse, just different, somehow. Almost like you care about whoever you’re writing to and want to put in a little extra effort. I hesitate to ascribe some extra level of meaning to hand-writing that isn’t there, but ever since I stopped hand-writing things on a regular basis, going back to it feels… different. Special? Perhaps, depending on the message.

One of the interesting quirks of hand-writing is the whole permanence of it all. If you spell something wrong, or make an errant stroke with your pen, turning your previously borderline-legible scrawl into an art piece to rival even the most post-impressionist art pieces, that’s it! You can either chuck out the whole thing and start again, hoping you don’t make some other mistake, or you can decide whether you want to live with it and give someone something that’s less than perfect. But what if I’m not happy about how the words look on the page? What if my kerning is off, or the whole thing is slanted at some strange angle? It all comes as part of the territory when it comes to handwriting, and my choices are to either put up with it, or start again. Of course, no one expects perfection when it comes to hand writing, so minor imperfections are probably fine. After all, there’s only so many times I can decide to rewrite something before I start to run out of cards.

And yes, I’m fully aware that some colleagues will appreciate a Christmas card more than others. While it’s unusual — in 2020, at least, when everything is either digital, or stories, or even digital stories — to receive a hand-written Christmas card, I still think it’s something worth doing for the people at work that have made an impact on me this year. But for whatever reason, some people associate more value with a hand-written, personalised Christmas card than others. I’m not really sure why; perhaps they think Christmas cards are blasé, or that anyone can write some nice words in a card, wishing someone else a merry Christmas and a happy new year. Maybe they don’t think the card-writer means what they say — irrespective of how personal the message is — that the whole thing smells off, as if the card-writer is looking for a free win. Maybe they just don’t put as much stock in receiving cards as the next guy. But I like to think writing personalised, thoughtful messages for over a dozen individuals says plenty about the person writing the cards, even if some of the recipients aren’t as grateful as others.

Even if all of the recipients won’t see the Christmas card the same way, why does that matter? On some level I’m doing it as much for myself as I am for the Christmas card recipients. Writing personalised Christmas cards lets me say things directly to the recipients that I would otherwise find difficult to say in person. Not because I don’t necessarily think those things when I’m talking with them in person, but because I often feel awkward about expressing my feelings. Besides, I’ve always considered myself more eloquent in text, and sometimes even far more eloquent, depending on the friend and situation, so none of this is particularly new.

So I ended up doing over a dozen hand-written Christmas cards this year. It cost me a few hours, getting the messages and my hand-writing right, another few dollars, buying the cards. But being able to feel the gratitude of others? When all you really did was write something deep and meaningful on a Christmas card? That’s kinda nice, too.

Which, as I said in a few of the cards, nice is all something we could all use a little more of, given the year we’ve all had.

Stories from the road: the Timezone mystery

Timezone Surfers Paradise

“The game isn’t working”, I said.
“Which one?”
“The zombie killer one”, I replied, gesturing vaguely in the direction of the not working zombie-killing amusement.

We’re at a Timezone — a real, honest-to-goodness Timezone — killing some time and zombies during our weekend on the Gold Coast. We chose the Gold Coast purely because it doesn’t require any real travel, but is still some distance away from our daily lives and our normal jobs in the hustle and bustle of Brisvegas. Old Man Rona has put a dent in all of our holiday plans, in one way or another, so we’re making the most of what we’ve got. Playing the cards we’ve been dealt, just not in the literal sense. Not this time around, anyway.

“What’s the problem with it?”
“The gun on the left-most side, you can’t aim it properly, it’s always at the bottom of the screen”.

I don’t know how much you know about Timezones, but they’re no longer the coin-operated arcades they once were. No, a Timezone in 2020 is now a slightly more modern affair. For starters, you can now purchase a contactless card — Timezone call them Powercards — that’s either good for unlimited plays of most games for a set period of time, or loaded with a set amount of real currency that you can then choose to spend on games as you please. All the arcades are fitted with pads that you can tap your Powercard against, as if you were using PayPass/PayWave, which then lets you play. The cool thing about them is that they also store any tickets you win from the games, which is good and bad. Good because it means you’re not trying to game the system and rip out an extra ticket here or there, but bad because it means you can’t walk around the arcade with your fat stacks of tickets and impress the ladies. Not that I ever did either of those things, of course. But I digress.

It might have seemed like I was doing the right thing by telling the staff at this particular Timezone about a faulty amusement, but truth be told I had ulterior motives for doing so. See, I had completely misplaced my Powercard just minutes earlier, after playing said faulty game. And while it was only worth about $15 or just over an hour of game time at that stage, it was my fervent hope that by doing the right thing and telling them about a game that wasn’t working as it should have been, they’d be able to help me find my lost game card, or give me a part-refund, or something, anything, to compensate me for my loss. Despite it being entirely my fault.

One good deed for another, as it were. Or at least, that’s what I hoped might happen.

“OK, we’ll check it out, thanks for letting us know. Do you have your card? I can refund you the game you played”.
“Er… no”, I said sheepishly. “I, uh, lost it, somehow. I put it down when I was playing the game, and when I was done, the card was gone”.

I wasn’t even sure how I lost my Powercard, to be honest. All I remember is swiping to play the zombie killing game, playing the game, discovering that the game wasn’t working. We finished the zombie-killing game. I looked longingly at Time Crisis 4, saw someone else playing it, then decided we’d come back to it to hopefully finish it, given we had unlimited plays, then went to find something else to play. That all happened within about 5 minutes, and it was at the next game (that I don’t remember the name of) that I realised I didn’t have my Powercard. I emptied out my pockets, retraced my steps, then retraced my steps and emptied my pockets again, but nothing. My Powercard was, just, gone.

Now at this point, I can’t fully explain what happened. Suffice to say, it was by sheer chance that the person talking to me about the game that wasn’t working, was the same person that served me an hour or so ago when I bought my Powercards in the first place. Chance also said they remembered that I had purchased two game passes on my credit card, and it was chance again that meant they knew that we could track down my missing Powercard by looking at the other card, which was still in the possession of my friend.

But chance wasn’t quite done yet. The only reason I had bought two Powercards on my credit card in the first place was because my friend had gone to the toilet as soon as we arrived at Timezone, giving me his credit card to buy his Powercard with. But when it was my turn to be served, I asked for two Powercards, not one. Me being the person that I am, ever loathe to ask if I can pay for things separately so as not to inconvenience someone else, paid for both on my own credit card, hoping that my friend would be able to pay me back in due course.

That, it turned out, could very well have been my saving grace in this instance. Could they have looked up where my Powercard had been used if I hadn’t bought two? Maybe, maybe not. I can’t say for sure. What I can tell you is that it was probably easier to look up a transaction where two separate cards were purchased in a single transaction, than it is to look up transactions where only a single card has been.

I sent a few hurried messages off to my friend, who wasn’t with me at the time, asking if I could borrow his Powercard while they looked up the other card that was linked to it. At that point, I wasn’t sure if they were going to tell me the last game that had been played on it, so we could spring on the perpetrator of the card-stealing crime while they were in the middle of killing some zombies or whatever, but unfortunately, what actually happened was much more mundane than that. The attendant re-issued my card, complete with the refunded game.

With the faulty game reported, my Powercard re-issued, and the natural order of things restored to the Timezone, only one question remained. Would they have been so helpful had I, in good faith, not reported a problem with one of the amusements before telling them about my lost game pass? My friend was against telling them about the broken game being an issue, saying it wasn’t his problem to deal with. I disagreed, saying that we should have told them about the broken game, because not only would I want to know about a broken amusement had the roles been reversed and I was the Timezone employee that day, but because it was the right thing to do.

Ultimately, I think it’s hard to know. People losing their Powercards can’t be uncommon, especially in an environment with kids that maybe aren’t so thoughtful, and parents that have too many kids and too many Powercards to keep track of. Perhaps re-issuing is standard procedure. Telling them about a faulty amusement might have helped, certainly. But at the end of the day, I wasn’t expecting to be compensated for losing my Powercard, something that was entirely my fault. Sure, I hoped for it. But I never expected anything.

Maybe one good deed really does beget another, after all.


While I usually only use the “stories from the road” title prefix when I’m travelling and/or posting away from home, no one has been travelling this year, so I figured that any trip was reason enough.

Deep Fried Oreos

serving suggestion for deep fried oreos: lightly dusted with icing powder and drizzled in chocolate sauce

I can’t remember what we paid for these deep fried oreos, but whatever it was, any normal person might have thought it was too much. And under normal circumstances, maybe I would have thought the same. But as they say, when in Rome — or in our case, Santa Cruz. The same store that we bought these from also said they do deep fried Twinkies (another US-centric snack that we had tried just a few days before), as well as deep fried Smucker’s Peanut Butter and Jelly, which I believe is some kind of cookie. Our choice was Oreos, seeing as that was the only real thing we recognised that was potentially edible when it came in the deep fried variant.

I haven’t written much about the time I spent in the United States, and I’m not really sure why. Waiting for the right time, perhaps, or just happy to let that time stay as a memory instead of being written down and recorded. But it’s been a few months since I last wrote something on this here blog, and in the absence of anything else I’m prepared to hit publish on right now, here goes.

It’s the 18th of August, 2020, and I’ve just eaten a deep fried Oreo. The occasion marks five years to the day since the last time I ate a deep fried Oreo. Well, that I can remember, anyway. I’m pretty sure I haven’t eaten a deep fried Oreo since 2015, although I can’t be 100% sure.

This day five years ago, Martin and I had just finished the outward journey to Santa Cruz. You know, the place that practically everyone has a t-shirt, but I doubt a quarter of anyone wearing a Santa Cruz tee has actually been there.

The deep fried Oreo was delicious, in case you’re wondering.

I’m not entirely sure what prompted us to go to Santa Cruz in the first place. Or if I did know, I don’t remember. All I remember is having a free day, a vague notion of wanting to go to some Apple Stores, and the feeling that I wanted to ride a rollercoaster in the US. What resulted was a 250km round trip that involved every mode of transport, and some deep fried Oreos.

The epic journey is a tale for another time (aren’t they all), because the reason we’re gathered here today is to talk about food.

I don’t consider myself a foodie. Not in the slightest. I kind of resent the term, only because it conveys a kind of elitism, a certain attitude towards food, that I’m not really about. I’ll happily admit that while I’m slightly picky about what I enjoy eating, and that I absolutely favour some food over others, but who isn’t, and who doesn’t? Everyone has their own favourite food, and it’s totally fine to enjoy a particular food more than something else.

Take banh mi, for example. We were talking about lunch at work, and I said that while I enjoyed all of the usual banh mi fillings, my absolute favourite had to be the crispy pork banh mi. You know the one; the one with the crunch, then the melt-in-your-mouth taste accompanied by just the right amount of salt along with the usual banh mi fillings. It’s delicious, and like I said, easily the best banh mi filling.

Simply expressing my opinion that crispy skin pork was the best banh mi filling led to me being called a foodie recently by a colleague, and I immediately refuted the claim. I said that while I enjoy certain foods more than others, I definitely don’t consider myself a foodie in the traditional sense of the term.

The thing about foodies is that they often express a fanaticism towards food that I just don’t share. They’re all too keen on expressively telling you what they’ve been cooking recently, or what they had on the weekend that was literally the best meal they’ve ever had, or what they’re looking forward to next weekend. It’s a lot of effort to keep up with a foodie in conversation, especially if you don’t share the level of enthusiasm for food they seem to have. You’re answering questions about what you cook, what flavours you tend to bring out in your food, what cooking style you have or have been using recently, and if you’re someone like me who likes to keep things very simple in the kitchen out of sheer laziness rather than a deeply-rooted hatred of food or whatever the foodie thinks of you, it’s a lot.

I’m not a foodie. I’m not like that. To me, food is more or less something you eat so you don’t die. But every now and again, I’ll go and have something nice. Probably not that healthy, but nice.

Sure, I’ll enjoy a meal here and there. I like my steaks as much the next guy, and there’s a lot that can be said for going and having a nice meal with some good friends. But I think a lot of the time, it’s more about the companionship than it is the act of degustation itself. Even the worst meals can be countered by some good conversation with family and friends. I don’t think I’ll ever have that relationship with food that foodies seem to; it’s just not something I see myself doing. Like I said, eating is important, but for me, it will never become more important than whatever else I’d rather be doing.

Deep fried Oreos take the total amount of things that I’ve had deep fried that aren’t normally to about three, although there’s probably heaps of stuff that I can’t remember right now. The first thing I had deep fried that aren’t normally was deep fried banana fritters — a popular dessert when served with ice cream at our family restaurant, back in the day. There was another takeaway shop a few stores up which did deep fried Mars bars, which were nice, but were extremely messy due to the chocolate immediately liquifying. They were also kind of a lot — the batter combined with the sweetness of the chocolate, caramel, and nougat definitely meant it was a had-to-be-tried, probably-should-never-be-eaten afterwards kind of deal.

If you’re after deep fried Oreos in Brisbane, I can recommend the ones they do at Red Hook, located in a tiny laneway in the Brisbane CBD, just off Queen St. No, they didn’t pay me to say this.

Bringing a little MSN Messenger to Skype for Business

A little experimentation and help from a colleague revealed that you can’t have both a personal status message and a location displayed at the same time. The personal status message takes precedence over your location, so I combined the two into the personal status message. And no, my Skype for Business display picture isn’t Phoenix Wright, for certain — corporate — reasons I’m not sure I fully understand. But it should be!

We use Skype for Business at work. It’s good and all, but all signs point to the fact it will eventually be replaced by Microsoft Teams. Like a lot of people, I’m using both until such time as I believe Teams completely subsumes Skype for Business.

One of my favourite features of Skype for Business that Teams doesn’t currently have is the status messages of the former. I don’t know what they’re supposed to be used for in a corporate setting, but I’ve been using them. Some might even say borderline inappropriately, but since HR hasn’t talked to me about them yet, I figure I’m in the clear. For now.

I have an affinity for status messages. Growing up with MSN Messenger tends to have that effect. There’s very few things like a particularly cute or clever (or better still, both) status message to brighten someone else’s day as they scroll through their contacts list, looking for someone else to hit up for whatever they need doing. Knowing I can have that kind of power by writing a witty status message once every couple of months is kind of cool, to be honest.

In the early 2000s, I don’t think I had a status message at all. Friends that did had soppy messages about their girlfriend or boyfriend at the time. You know the ones. <3 followed by the initials of their teenage girlfriend or boyfriend, which, depending on the version of MSN you were using at the time, might have been translated into the ❤️ emote at the time. Or if they had recently broken up or been in a fight with the former bestie, maybe the </3 emote instead. I’m loathe to perpetuate the stereotype of emo teenagers and whatnot, but on some level, it’s a stereotype because that’s because that was pretty much what it was like. You had emotions, and often, you expressed them via status messages in MSN Messenger in that passive-aggressive teenager way. I’m not going to tell you about my feelings, but you can notice them for yourself by reading my status message. Maybe I just had those sorts of friends.

From about 2008 onwards, I proudly displayed what song I was listening to at the time using iChat, which worked with AIM (for my other Mac-using buddies), MSN (for all my high-school friends), and Google Chat (now Google Talk, Hangouts, or whatever Google are calling it these days) for my fellow nerds. At the time, iChat integrated with iTunes on the Mac and was able to dynamically update your status message to tell everyone how pretentious incredibly awesome your taste in music was, way before streaming music services were a thing — or as popular as they are these days. You know, back when playing music on your computer meant that you either have to have bought the CD, or have acquired the songs via some other — frequently less legal, even if it was via a friend-of-a-friend — method.

But all of that was a long time ago, and in case I needed yet another reminder that I’m getting old, IM services like AIM and MSN Messenger are dead and buried. They have been for years. Same deal for iChat, which died when Apple decided that sending SMS messages and iMessages via your phone/Apple ID was a bigger deal than being able to reach out to your friends and instantly have a conversation, even though that was basically the whole point of IM in the first place.

Cue Skype for Business, and its personal status messages designed for I-don’t-know-what in the corporate world. Maybe they’re supposed to tell your colleagues about what you’re working on, or like Microsoft’s official documentation, to tell others not to bother you over IM. That does seem like the most likely explanation, seeing as there are already other fields that exist for your availability/whether you’re in a meeting/on a call/presenting, as well as what location you’re working from — the latter of which has never been used more than now, due to the current climate of 90% of the office working from home.

A short history of my Skype for Business status messages:

  • Don’t forget to like and subscribe! — A classic. Appropriate for all ages, understood by anyone that has watched any YouTube video uploaded in the past 10 years, and in the context of a corporate environment — where work is more often about the team than the individual — just incomprehensible enough to make someone stop and think about what you really mean, if you mean anything at all.

  • Help! Everything is spreadsheets! — Another timeless classic. Everyone who’s worked in any kind of corporate setting has come across the scourge of spreadsheets that power everything from responses to surveys about where the office Christmas party is going to be held this year, to holding key figures about the company’s financials, even though there’s probably a system that already holds all that data (that isn’t named after a small hatchback from a South Korean car manufacturer), and everything in between. Upon reading this status message, the reader is hit with just one thought: where, on the spectrum of a genuine cry for help, and a tongue-in-cheek poke at the proliferation of spreadsheets as a corporate employee — particularly coming from someone employed in IT to look after the actual ERP — does this status message fall?

  • Help! Everything is coronavirus! – Self-explanatory.

Maybe once Teams supports personal status messages — a feature that even Discord has — I’ll switch over, but until then, I’ll be over here, making my colleagues smile whenever they’re scrolling through their contacts list, glance at me, and find whatever witty status message I have set.

Maybe once this is all over, I’ll make my personal status message “I survived a pandemic and all I got was the ability to work in an office.”

Work Experience, Part II

At its peak, the Australian Apple Premium Reseller called Next Byte had more than 20 stores nationally, and I spent the tail end of my high school and all of my uni-going years at just one: Next Byte Hobart.

Today, the Apple landscape in Australia is a lot different to what it was over a decade ago. Thanks mostly to the iPhone, Apple is now one of the largest companies in the world. Apple owned-and-operated retail locations compete with general electronics retailers, who now sell Apple products more out of obligation rather than any real profit-chasing exercise. But as any reseller will tell you, slim profits on Apple products means it’s extremely difficult, if not outright impossible, to match Apple when it comes to the unparalleled customer experience that Apple Retail locations are able to offer. Any third-party Apple presence is either small enough to fly under the radar, or niche enough to carve out a market of their own. For the rest of us, Apple retail stores in every capital city CBD besides Melbourne, Darwin, and Hobart means out in-person sales and service needs are fulfilled, with any gaps covered by Apple’s online store and mail-in repair programs.

I have plenty of stories from my time at Next Byte. Maybe one day I’ll even write about a few of them, once I’m a little more comfortable the statute of limitations has passed. In the interests of becoming a better storyteller, the one I’m going to tell you today is about the time I did work experience at my place of employment.

All up, I spent about seven years at Next Byte. Mostly on a casual basis, working on weekends and school/Uni holidays where I could. By the end of that seven years I had proven myself in basically every aspect of the business; sales consultant, service technician, stock administrator, executive assistant, and Apple educator.

I was a stand-in in the truest sense of the word, capable of performing basically every role besides, perhaps, running the joint. And not that I didn’t want to, but somehow, there was always someone more senior than me who managed to hang onto that responsibility. Which, being as young as I was, was totally fine by me.

It’s sometime in June, 2007.

I’ve been working at Next Byte on a weekends/school holidays basis for about six months now, and everything is great.

The end of the school year is coming up fast. I need to find somewhere to complete a week’s worth of work experience for the Vocational Educational and Training subject I’m taking, and what better place than my current place of employment? Maybe not in retail though, I’ve already done plenty of that. What about service?

One phone call later and it’s all sorted out, and the service team lead (and business manager) couldn’t be happier — he gets a free week of labour from someone who already knows a few things about the business, a few more things about Macs, and I get to tick a box for one of my subjects. It’s win-win.

Technically, it’s the second time I’ve performed work experience at Next Byte. But while that first time was mostly spent out helping out doing whatever boring mundane completely necessary chores mixed with a little customer service, I didn’t get any hands-on time with some of the tools poking around the insides of Macs.

That changed the second time around, with my second go at work experience involving performing light administrative duties, observing repairs, and even a few very basic repairs of my own — all under the careful observation of an actually certified technician, of course. Still, I had a hard time shaking a certain sense of déjà vu as I’m shown the ropes on a different aspect of the business.

The week passes by uneventfully, and at the end, I get a glowing recommendation from the service manager, extolling my incredible work ethic, ability to quickly learn new things, and willingness to give anything a go with a smile.

I like to think I still have some of those skills.

Positive Mental Attitude

Probably not the Old Town I’m talking about in the anecdote below, but close enough.
And strangely, the only Old Town photo I had in my photo library.

It’s 2017, and our last night in Malaysia. In the morning, we start the journey home, back to Australia. Just as we’re about to turn in for the night, one of our cousins decides to take us out. It’s one part last hurrah, seeing as it’s been a few years since we’ve been together, and one part long goodbye, given that we have no idea when we’ll be back or when we’ll see each other again.

We end up going to a little coffee shop, part of a chain called Old Town. It’s not super late, maybe 9 or 10pm, but your guess is as good as mine why there’s a coffee shop open that late. In Australia, most coffee shops would have closed by now, even though they would have opened at 7 or earlier. But in Malaysia, everything opens much later (10 or 11am), and stays open a lot later, too, so I guess it all balances out. Chalking it up to cultural differences, we order. The conversation is slow at first, given that it’s just the three of us and the only reason we’re back anyway is because of grandpa’s funeral, but eventually we get talking.

Because we’re all getting to that age where some of us cousins should start thinking about getting married, settling down, and starting a family, we start wondering who will be getting married next. It’s a topic we’ve covered before, and like last time, we come to the same conclusion: there just aren’t that many of us that have been in the kind of long-term relationship that could lead to marriage, so the chances of any one of us getting married any time soon are pretty low.

Eventually our cousin mentions that it’s unlikely one of our other cousins will get married soon, partly because of their general attitude and overall negative demeanour towards life. You know the type — always complaining, always lamenting how unfortunate their own existence is. Never happy, never content, a real pessimist in every definition of the word. Miserable.

I’ve thought about that a lot.

There’s a lot to be said for your own attitude towards life. We all know that life happens, but what happens if you start thinking about things in a positive way? Instead of focusing on the negatives, what happens if you start remembering all the good that’s happened, instead of all the bad? I’m not telling you to ignore or otherwise trivialise all the bad stuff that happens; it’s all important. But by choosing to think about things in a certain way, by choosing to find the good in every situation you find yourself in, can’t you improve your own perception of how things have panned out, whichever way the cookie has crumbled?

I’ve been calling it positive mental attitude, although it takes many forms. Positive thinking. Optimism. Glass-half-full. And the most recent one I’ve heard of, useful belief. Whatever you call it, the concept remains the same: by choosing to think a certain way about everything, your outlook on life changes. And when you choose to put a positive spin on even the worst news, it changes your perspective in a subtle way. Soon enough, you’ll start to notice the upside to everything, the proverbial and figurative light at the end of the tunnel.

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