Sunday, 27 September 2015

Germany Trip: Cologne

Hi everyone, I'm sorry I've been so quiet lately! As you may know, I recently got back from a work trip to Germany and so I thought I would share a few of my pics and experiences in a few posts, starting off with my trip there and my weekend in Cologne.

I left work at lunch time of Friday afternoon and after a quick stop at home to drop some things off and meet Frosty, I got dropped at the airport a little earlier than I had expected. But that's fine by me, since I much prefer arriving somewhere early as opposed to screeching in at the last minute. It gave me a chance to get all checked in and, since I really did have quite a bit of time to spare, I decided to use the chance to get a haircut! There's nothing like a haircut to make you feel better and a few days before my hair had reached that I-need-to-get-cut-yesterday phase, so it was a great way to pass the time!

Ready to fly after a new haircut.
A quick fight later and I had landed in Joburg with a few more hours to kill. This time I found myself a quick snack and then took a browse around Exclusive Books. I had been looking for a good book to read for ages and when I caught sight of Sheryl Sandburg's book, Lean In, I knew that that was the book that I would be taking along with me. I think the fact that I had completed more than half the book before I had landed in Cologne is indicative of how good a read this book is - I'll hopefully be sharing a bit more about my thoughts on the book later, as it deserves a post all of it's own.

I sat next to a lovely lady on my way there and she was the perfect seat mate - friendly and chatty for a little while and then quiet when it was time to be quiet. For a while after take off the weather was quite stormy and lightning-y and not particularly nice and I thought I'd try to photograph lightning - in between black screens of pictures that didn't catch any lightning, I caught one or two pics where the lightning is catching the clouds which I'm pretty excited about! This one below is probably my favourite one and with a bit of editing, it's come out really nicely - don't you think?

Lightning in the clouds taken from an airplane
Lightning and clouds from a plane - I was contemplating whether I should go through the effort of
taking my camera out to try and get some pics of the lightning and I'm really chuffed that, in the end,
I decided to get my camera out!
My investment in one of those awesome neck pillows also really helped and I think I got about 4 hours or solid sleep in, which is a record for me as I don't usually sleep comfortably on a plane! We arrived in Munich in the early hours of Saturday morning and I loved seeing how green and "farmy" the countryside around Munich was, as we were descending to land. I had a quick layover in Munich and then an hour flight to get to Cologne, which had a more "foresty" feel to it when we were flying in.

One of the things that first struck me about Germany is that it's a really beautiful country and it immediately appealed to me for a reason I can't quite pinpoint. 

One of the best things about being able to travel is meeting up with friends who come from, or who have moved to, different parts of the world. When I went to Italy I was able to meet up with my "Italian sister" which was a really special time. This time I was able to meet up with a friend from varsity who had moved to Germany a few months before. Kim and I both used this opportunity to see a bit of Germany, she got to come and explore a bit of Cologne with me over the first weekend I was there. 

Black and white cow in green field
German countryside.
Kim and I - great to catch up with friends in foreign cities!
We spent two happy days exploring Cologne. 

The Kölner Dom (aka Cologne Cathedral) is one of Germany's biggest tourist attractions and it really is an amazing sight! I had the most incredible view of the Dom from my hotel room and waking up and going to sleep with the Dom as a view was an incredibly special thing! Inside they have some beautiful stained glass windows, some of them older and some slightly newer. Kim and I both really enjoyed the window that was made up of hundreds of identically sized squares of different coloured glass, that are meant to represent pixels. This, of course, appealed to the engineer in both Kim and me!

Inside the Kölner Dom
Inside the Kölner Dom - beautiful arches.
Inside the Kölner Dom - Stained Glass Windows
There were beautiful stained glass windows everywhere.

Inside the Kölner Dom
Inside the Kölner Dom - modern stained glass windows that look like pixels. 
Inside the Kölner Dom - Candles
I always love seeing the beautiful candles that get lit within churches and the Dom was no different.
After walking across a bridge filled with Love Locks, we decided on a whim to try and get to the top of a building that had a stream of people walking around it. We managed to find the building and 28 stories higher up, we got to the top of a cylindrical building and had a wonderful panoramic view of Cologne. Even though it had started to rain by this stage, it was lovely to see 

Strolling along the Rhine in Köln.
Love Locks Bridge in Köln
Love Locks in Köln.
Köln Love Locks
In France, they apparently removed 45 tons worth of Love Locks from a bridge
where people followed a similar concept - the weight of the locks hadn't
been factored in to the design of the bridge and they were starting to affect
the structural integrity of the bridge!
View of the Dom from 28 Stories Up in Köln
View of the Dom from 28 stories up.
Köln Panorama
Getting creative with rain.
When we got back to the hotel on the first evening, after stopping at the shops to get a bite for dinner, we set up a picnic inside our hotel room and had a really great time taking pictures of the most breathtaking sunset. It just kept getting better and better!

Sunset and reflections in puddles on a roof
Reflections on a roof top.
Distant view of Köln
View of Köln from a distance - you can see the Dom on the right.
Kim at sunset.
View of a city at sunset through leaves
Getting creative with framing my pictures.
Me and my reflection taken by Kim.
Thanks Kimi! 
Red and gold sunset with cityscape
This sunset just kept getting better and better!
One of the highlights of the weekend was a visit to the Lindt Chocolate Museum on the Sunday! One thing that was really great about both the Museum and the Dom was that they had information available in English! It made a huge difference being able to read the pamphlets and information boards in English (and gave me a chance to brush up on my German, with an easy translation of English right next to it!). I'm sure the question on everyone's mind is "so, did you get free chocolate at the museum?" the answer to which is "YES!". The museum really was fascinating and covered a huge variety of subjects from chocolate packaging and marketing to the process of obtaining cocoa beans to making chocolate (complete with machines) to packing chocolate and finally, the history of chocolate. Oh, and did I mention they also have a small hot-house where they grow actual cocoa trees?! AND we got to see first hand how they make those hollow figurines. All in all, a very worthy visit!

As a final activity on Sunday afternoon, Kim and I met up with one of her classmates who was studying relatively close by, which was also great. Even though I had only spent two days in Germany, hearing a South African accent in amongst the chatter of people was a very welcome thing indeed!

The Lindt Chocolate Museum in Köln
Kim outside the Lindt Chocolate Museum in Köln.

Lindt Chocolate Museum in Köln
Me outside the Lindt Chocolate Museum.
Learning how hollow chocolate figurines are made in the Lindt Chocolate Museum
To make the hollow figurines, chocolate is put into moulds and the
moulds are then put into these heads. The actual heads rotate in a circle
and then so does the entire 'X' shape, ensuring that the chocolate is
distributed evenly while it is setting. In the 'olden days' the chocolate figures
were put into metal moulds, but plastic is much cheaper and easier to recycle!

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Thursday, 17 September 2015

Quote #9: The Secret Of...

Practical Cookie Wise Words Wednesdays Week 9

This week the quotes in my diary focus on starting. Something. Anything. A big project or a small activity. And the quote above is one that really appeals to me. The project that I've been working on at work started out as this seemingly massive thing where the amount of work we had to do and the time it was going to take us seemed like a stretch. But here we are, 9 months after starting development work and we're putting the finishing touches on the software and getting ready for the software to be used in a production environment (ie with real-life people and real-life situations).

I think this is one of the benefits of the way that engineers are taught to think. We break a big, complex, impossible-sounding problem down into smaller manageable steps. This approach to problem solving allows us to achieve the seemingly impossible. 

If you can break an impossible task down into a bunch of completely possible pieces and you complete all the possible pieces successfully then, surely your impossible task just became possible by virtue of completing all the smaller possible pieces... Try this approach next time you have to solve a problem and see if it helps!

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Friday, 11 September 2015

Quote #8: We Must Use...

Practical Cookie Wise Words Wednesdays Week 8

This week has been a really busy week (seems like they've all been really busy recently, I guess that's the joy of projects work). I have had the most incredible time in Cologne, Germany. I'll be sharing a few more posts on this a bit later I'm sure, but here's a quick summary for you.I first met up with one of my friends and spent the weekend exploring and then this week we have been training users on our software and then getting feedback from them.

My quote today focuses on the importance of time. When I was looking through my diary to find a quote, I saw this one and immediately thought of the Cologne Dom (which is the background of the picture above). The construction of this beautiful building started in 1248 and was halted in 1473 and once the work had restarted in the 19th century it was finally completed in 1880. For those who are too lazy to calculate, I'll summarise for you - from start to finish, this Cathedral took 632 years to build! That is an incredibly long time, can you just imagine the number of generations that helped to create and build this masterpiece? And can you imagine the project management of something this huge?!

I then started thinking about this in more depth and thought about how applicable this has been to me and my team in the course of our project. As we don't all meet in person very often, we have sometimes had to be very creative in terms of our time usage (such as having meetings and performing tests in parallel) in order to maximise the time we spend together and get the most benefit out of it. In some cases we have succeeded in managing our time creatively. In other cases, we have not been particularly creative in managing our time together, but hopefully we have learnt from it and can improve it at our next face-to-face meetings. I think the biggest learning from this trip is that as a project team, we need to insist that users have their days completely dedicated to performing the User Acceptance Tests and ideally we want the users to sit in the same office as us so that we can assist and clarify information when needed. If users sit in their own offices, there is a high probability that they will be distracted from testing with other plant issues that inevitably crop up and need urgent attention.

Feel free to share any suggestions for using time creatively below, I'd love to hear them!

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Thursday, 3 September 2015

Quote #7: All Communication Problems...

Practical Cookie Wise Words Wednesdays Week 7
This photograph is one that I took of one of Nathan Sawaya's Lego Statues from when we visited 
The Art of the Brick in Cape Town earlier this year.
This week has been a hectic week, getting prepared for my trip to Germany (I can't believe I leave tomorrow!). Part of those preparations have involved making sure that our software is getting translated into German and displaying in German, instead of English.

At the beginning of the week, our German contact kept on feeding back that she was not seeing the majority of our translations appearing on her screen. And we kept on feeding back that all the provided translations have been incorporated and everything* should be displaying in German. The same message passed between us about 4 times with each of us standing their ground.

Eventually, we managed to get to the bottom of the issue, where we needed to change one small setting and then the translations displayed correctly and everyone was happy again.

I've definitely used this as a learning curve and I have a few ideas now of what to ask for in case something similar happens again so that instead of listening to reply, I can listen to understand and hopefully resolve things without each side having to repeat the same message over and over before figuring out the cause/problem. I think the most important thing about listening is listening actively and being able to ask questions that clarify things completely, rather than just accepting things at face value. It's something that I know I need to work on, but I hope I'm getting there!

* Barring small errors for spelling and/or missed translations

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