22,224 Days

30 years ago, I lost my dad. He was at home with mum after a long day at work, when someone came to the front door and shot him. Just like that. He died several hours later in St George hospital from blood loss due to ballistic trauma.

It was an agonising experience for our whole family. We all eventually came to terms with what happened, although I think we all dealt with it in very different ways. Dad was a completely innocent victim in what turned out to be a ghastly case of mistaken identity. To cut a very long story, a hitman by the name of Paul Thomas Crofts had been paid to shoot a underworld gangland figure named Danny Karam, as a warning for some shady stuff he was doing. Of course, there is a whole story behind it and how it came to happen, and the investigations into his murder went on for several years through several court cases and mistrials, but in the end the investigations exposed some pretty big time drug and crime syndicates that were operating around Kings Cross.

Of course, this was not obvious at the start, and it took a long time to work out the details of what happened and who was responsible. And why. We asked why a lot. Those years of not having an explanation for what happened were very difficult for everyone. After it happened, nobody really understood why, and everyone was under suspicion including our own family. As the investigation proceeded, the detectives started to piece together a complex puzzle that eventually led to the truth. There were many layers in the investigation that I won’t go into here, but in the end, getting the full story and being able to put the pieces together and understand what happened was at least some consolation.

Sydney Morning Herald February 25, 1993

At the time, I was 30 and dad was 60. I used to think 60 was old, but now that I’m also 60, I realise just how young 60 really is.

I wanted to note this on my blog today because I worked out that from April 20 1932, the day my dad was born in Lviv Poland, to February 23 1993, the day he died in Sydney, he had been alive for exactly 22,224 days.

Today, December 3, 2023, is 22,224 days since I was born on January 28 1963. Today, I have been alive for the same amount of time that my father was alive. I still feel young. And I’m sure my dad felt young at this age too, but tomorrow I get to wake up and live my 22,225th day, something he did not get the chance to do.

We feel so invincible most of the time, and most of us live as though we have all the time in the world. But life is so fragile. You never know what’s around the corner, be it a serious illness, an unfortunate accident , or some idiot who gets an address wrong and shoots you by mistake. Don’t take life for granted. Spend it doing things you love with people you care about.

Live every day as though it is your last, because one day it will be. And as cliche as that might sound, stop and think how you’re spending your time. How did you spend your day today? Because if you don’t get to wake up tomorrow morning, I truly hope you get to say you spent yesterday living like it was your last.

Learning with Pakistan

Over the past couple of weeks, I had the great privilege of visiting Pakistan, and working with over 120 teachers across Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi. Like a number of other countries across the Asia Pacific region, Pakistan is making changes to their education systems, with an increasing move to educational digitisation happening in the aftermath of the Covid pandemic. Schools that were thrown suddenly into using digital tools are now starting to rethink what this all means for education moving forward. Google is playing a significant role in this shift too, with Chromebooks and Workspace forming an important part of this new digital landscape, and working closely with Pakistan and other frontier markets across the region.

After flying into Islamabad via an extended 21 hour stopover in Doha, Qatar, I arrived at the first training venue to meet almost 40 enthusiastic teachers from the Beaconhouse Schools system. I was really impressed not only with their existing knowledge of Workspace, but also their solid understanding of contemporary pedagogical principles. These teachers were hand selected to be part of these workshops, and many of them were instructional coaches and very skilled educators. When working with teachers like this it can sometimes feel a bit intimidating, and at times I wondered if there was really anything of value I could add to the conversation, but I think we managed to find a number of areas where I was able to make a worthwhile contribution.

I was taken to dinner in Islamabad by Nishwa and Madiha from the Tech Valley team, where we enjoyed some great food and even better conversations. This was my first trip to a predominantly Muslim country, and I had a lot of questions about life, culture and Islam, which they were keen to answer and provide their perspective. I learned a lot and it was great to see the reality of the Muslim world instead of the ignorant stereotypes that we are often fed by the media.

After the second day of training finished in Islamabad we got in the car and drove the five hours to our next stop, Lahore. The team from Tech Valley did an amazing job of planning the itinerary, and it all ran very smoothly. In Lahore I was taken to dinner by Umar and Nishwa to Haveli Restaurant, overlooking the Walled City of Lahore, including the Badshahi Mosque, the Samadhi of Ranjit Singh, and the Lahore Fort. The food was great, the company was amazing, and the view was something else. Definitely one of those life experiences that gets burned into memory.

Working with the Lahori teachers the next day was an equally incredible experience, and again their deep understanding of the teaching and learning process made them a joy to work with. I’ve had the pleasure of working with thousands of teachers around the world over the past decade, and working with these Pakistan educators was a real highlight. We covered the same material as the first couple of days in Islamabad, with a few tweaks here and there based on feedback.

The workshops ran over two days, with the first day dealing mainly with toolset and skillset, and the second day focusing on mindset. I was happy with the structure of the two days, and impressed with the way these educators thoughtfully engaged with the workshop. I felt we had some really meaningful conversations about teaching and learning.

After the second day of workshops in Lahore I was able to have a couple of sightseeing days, and used some of this time to explore Lahore with my driver Saim. He showed me some truly amazing places, including the Shahi Hammam, and another visit to the Lahore Fort. The Fort is definitely worth a visit, and especially to see places like the Alamigiri Gate, the Picture Wall, the Sheesh Mahal (Palace of Mirrors) and the Naulakha Pavilion. For someone that had very little knowledge of the Mughal empire, I certainly learned a lot that day. It was the best kind of history lesson.

We finished the day with a drive to the Pakistan/India border. I honestly had no idea what to expect here, but I definitely did not expect what I saw. There are two stadiums on either side of the border, one enormous one for India and a smaller one for Pakistan, which collectively seat about 8000 people. Every afternoon a ceremony is performed where both countries parade, dance and perform in a display of power and taunting each other. It was quite incredible to watch and I’m so pleased I got to see it.

The next day I flew to Karachi for the final stop in my tour of Pakistan, I was met by the local Tech Valley team members, Sobia and Subhan, who were also amazing tour guides. We spent the afternoon visiting many interesting places around Karachi, including Frere Hall, the Mazar el Quaid mausoleum for Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Mohatta Palace, and then to an extraordinary dinner by the Arabian Sea at Kolachi.

I went for a walk near the hotel that morning and got mobbed by some street kids, begging for food as I passed by. It made me sad to see the levels of poverty that still exist in so many parts of the world so I bought a big bag of food to give them on my return walk. I know it seems tokenistic but I wanted to do something for these kids. As they laughed and acted up in front of my camera it really did strike me just how much children are children, anywhere in the world, in whatever conditions they find themselves. That innocence is so beautiful.

The final workshop in Karachi went well, and I was again struck by the professionalism and dedication of these teachers from Beaconhouse Schools. I again made some minor tweaks to the program based on feedback, and feel confident in saying that the Karachi workshop was also a success. It’s amazing what happens when you put talented educators together, provide them with some prompts and provocations, and watch what happens. I am certain that there will be big things coming from the people in these workshops, and I’ve no doubt they will play a key role in driving Pakistani education forward.

Overall, an amazing experience on many levels. Pakistan was eye-opening for me, and I suspect I will continue to learn and grow as I make further visits back there over the next few months.

If you’re interested, you can check out all the photos from the trip here on Google Photos.

Foundation Fonts now in Workspace

If you don’t teach in Australia, it may surprise you to learn that we have specific fonts that must be used in early years and primary education. These fonts are mandated by each state and are a requirement for schools to use when creating resources for young students. The fonts are used when teaching handwriting to young students.

If you ARE an Australian teacher, particularly for the early years students from grades K to 3, but in primary school generally, you know that having access to these fonts is kind of a big deal. You are expected to use these fonts to make resources for students, such as worksheets and activities, so being able to install them on your computer is important.

For a very long time now, it’s been a bit of an issue that these mandated fonts have not been available in Google Docs. I don’t think I’ve ever run training for teachers where the question about Foundation Fonts in Docs has not been asked. It’s just one of those inevitable questions that comes up every single time, but until now there has not been a good answer. If you’re on a Windows or Mac machine you would need to leave Docs and switch to Word or some other tool to make student resources, and if you were using a Chromebook you were completely stuck since installing things like fonts is not an option for ChromeOS users. If you wanted to use Google Docs and you needed Foundation Font, you were just out of luck.

Until today. I’m very pleased to be able to tell you that the mandated fonts for all Australian states are now available in Google Workspace!

Let me tell you how to get them, and then share a little of the journey of how we got here.

To use these fonts you simply go to the font list, choose More fonts and search for the name of the font you want. These new Foundation/Beginner fonts have all been names with a consistent naming convention – Edu <state> <fontname>. So, for example, if you’re in New South Wales, just search for “NSW” and there it is. South Australians might find it a little trickier, as the letter combination “SA” appears in many other fonts, so you can also search using the term “Edu” and they will all show up. Here’s a video that shows what I mean…

How to get Australian fonts for schools in Google Docs.

Of course, if you do need to download these fonts so you can install them into a non-ChromeOS application like Word, Indesign, Illustrator, etc you can acccess them all in the Google Fonts collection at https://fonts.google.com/?query=edu.

There are a couple of companies that currently sell these fonts to Australian schools. I started conversations with these companies a couple of years ago to see if they would somehow partner with Google to help bring these fonts to the web so that Google Docs users could access them but there was very little appetite to do so. This approach of only selling installable fonts may have been a good approach in the 90s, but it was ignoring the rise of webfonts and the ever growing number of schools that use Google Docs, and particularly on Chromebooks.

Here’s a fun fact about fonts. When most people talk about “fonts” they really mean”typefaces”. If you’re unclear on the difference, a typeface is essentially the design of the text, or the way a piece of text looks, but a font is the implementation of that typeface in software. While a font can be legally protected by copyright, a typeface cannot. So anyone can freely duplicate an existing typeface, but there are intellectual property issues to consider when creating a font of those letters in software. This means that Google’s implementation of Foundation font is available for anyone to use, but only because it was created from scratch and not reusing someone else’s existing font.

Importantly then, these new fonts from Google have been completely reengineered from the ground up. The designers, Tina Anderson and Corey Anderson did a great job of making them for all Australian states, recoded these from scratch to create a new font for an existing typeface. And while you can buy these fonts from other sources, Google has made theirs available free of charge, both in Google Workspace and through Google Fonts.

As someone who has been training teachers in the Google ecosystem for over 10 years, the request for these mandated fonts was something I heard at almost every workshop I ever ran. I’m really glad that I was able to work with Dave and the awesome people in the Google Fonts team, and the designers Tina and Corey, to finally help bring these fonts to Australian teachers in Google Workspace.

And as a Chromebook user, and someone who passionately believes that the web is the future and that Chromebooks are the best option for most schools, I’m glad that we were able to remove this annoying font issue, and give teachers and students yet another reason to choose ChromeOS.