June 2008

Sheesh, it’s June already. Seriously, here has the year gone? On that note, it has only taken 5 months, but my patient persistence in badgering the TPG people that our upgraded ADSL2+ (broadband) line was not working properly has finally paid off. All up we had multiple e-mail conversations with the TPG helpdesk people, 2 home visits and several follow-up calls from the local TPG technician, and a call and a visit from a Telstra technician. The latter called and said that he had been working on a similar problem that was showing up a problem in the cables near the local shopping centre. The next evening he dropped in to check on how the line was performing and said that he had swapped our wire pair over to a completely different cable, where there was much less high speed traffic, and wanted to know whether the line was performing any better. Huh! Was it ever! It now locks in at around 15 to 16,000 kbps! Gotta be happy with that.

I was fascinated by the rainbow effect in the Captain Cook Memorial Jet on Lake Burley Griffin.

Some time ago, it occurred to me that all of the helpdesk operators had a foreign sounding accent that sounded strangely familiar. I did some research and discovered that they are in the Philippines. So in my final e-mail reply to the suggestion that we could now close the ticket, I said, “Maraming salamat po”, which means very much, thanks, politely. That certainly got a response. She thought maybe I was Filipino.

Reminds me of a story that Doris told when she had returned from Hong Kong on her “your visa is about to expire and you need to get out of the country and return” trip. Of course, the prevailing language over there is Chinese, which just floats over you because you just don’t understand any of it. She had been wandering around the Stanley market in Hong Kong and realised that what she was hearing was familiar. It took her a while to realise that what she was hearing was Tagalog, because many of the shop assistants are Filipino – working in Hong Kong can be quite lucrative compared with the earnings back home. So she found something she liked and of course said, “Magkano?” (how much?). Instant response, much jabbering in Tagalog, a reply from her that no, she couldn’t really speak Tagalog, just “kaunti lang” (a little, only), followed by some serious price discounting – as low as they possibly could while still convincing the Chinese boss to accept the price.

As I sit here on the Saturday morning of the Queens Birthday long weekend, the winter sun is pouring into the lounge room, the solar panels are pushing out 750 watts already, the solar powered pump for the puppies’ drinking fountain is finally working after a whole week of cloud, the puppies are warm and happy, I’ve had my morning coffee and all’s well with the world.

Speaking of the worker, she is really loving her job, despite the numerous 07:00 starts lately. At least (most of the time) she gets off at 15:30 and it’s good to get home in daylight. She has also booked in for her citizenship test. The booklet on which the test is based is only (!) 46 pages and she may even know more about Australia than me by the time she has finished. The test is 20 questions in 45 minutes and is designed to test how well you have read the booklet. Even so, there is still a 5% fail rate. I guess it’s trying to weed out those who want to stay here and really have no idea about what they’re signing up for.

We are heading for Townsville for her birthday. We leave here at 0dark:00 and get there before lunchtime on the Friday, check out progress on the new house, stay in the 4-star Rydges (her company hotel is booked out) on one of the top 2 floors overlooking the marina and river, then take a full day tour to the Great Barrier Reef on the Saturday and make our way home on the Sunday. Should be fun.

One issue that has been a subject of considerable discussion since we moved in here revolves around what temperature to set the ducted heating. Of course, we moved into this place in June last year (yup, we’ve been here a year already), right at the beginning of Winter, and Julie kept complaining of being cold and cranking up the heat, to the point where I would be toasting and would turn it down again. Three months later, I showed her the gas bill for the quarter and she kinda backed off a bit, sorta. Until it started getting cold again. I am pleased to announce that today we established a working compromise. Browsing in the Harvey Norman store, we found an electric throw rug, like an electric blanket but instead of putting it under you in the bed, you put it over you anywhere. Major cultural difference here – these things are well established in the US, but new to Aus. Anyhoo, Julie no longer needs the whole house to be heated to toasting point, as she has her very own personal toaster. Which means the evening temperature can remain set at a very comfortable 21 degrees and it can bloody well stay there.

The selection of photos from this week kick off with some of the kangaroo mob that lives on the hill at the back of work and often sun themselves on our side of the hill. It really pisses Julie off that I get to see them up so close, so often.

Then there is the solar powered pump that drives the water feature to provide running water for the puppies.

And a couple of close-ups of the Crimson Rosella that has been hanging around lately.

Also, I have introduced some motion-detection software on the PuppyCam and the YardCam. Each of them uploads direct to its own folder which is the source folder for a slide show. It’s the closest I can get to real time with the equipment that I have. The YardCam detects on only a small view at the bird feeder, as the machine driving it is only (!) a Pentium 4, while the PuppyCam is driven by the file server, which was upgraded last year and has capacity to spare, so it scans a much larger section of the courtyard.

This week’s gardening lesson: when you are working in an area where the dogs shit, it’s important to watch where you are stepping, but it’s even more important to watch where you are sticking your fingers. A while ago, I re-positioned the “boy” statue in the garden, so that he was peeping over the line of plants in the yard. Then I found that he had fallen over backwards. Poor little bugger, his head had landed in the dog shit! Better than going face first, I guess. I’ve since moved him onto the path, where at least he has a firm footing.

And I have invested in a hardware upgrade to the PC that runs the YardCam. For an amazingly low price, I actually got a faster setup than what is in the file server. Funny. Technology prices just seem to keep coming down. The YardCam is now back in action and I’m just waiting on a software licence re-issue to get the motion detection part of it working again.

I was following a female colleague down the corridor at work the other and was mildly tempted to give her a wolf whistle, but since I have gotten into trouble for similar stuff in the past and don’t know her all that well yet, as she is new there, I resisted the urge. Then I realised that she had the same determined walk that I myself get when I’m heading for the toilet. Because, believe it or not folks, the dunny is a full 100 yards away from my desk. If I feel the urge to “go”, then “right bloody now” is the time to take action!

The software licence came in the same day and the YardCam is now capturing motion activated pictures, just in time for us to head for Sydney for me to get a back treatment. It’s a whole hour of intense massage covering the whole back and legs area, concentrating even more on those areas that are tight. It’s quite common to feel stiff and sore for a couple of days afterwards. On the way up, we took a side road up through Moss Vale and Bowral, where I was actually looking for the Bradman Museum. I know it’s there, but for the second time I’ve gone looking for it, it’s not obvious once you get to Bowral, where it is. Sir Donald Bradman (famous for his remarkable performances in the sport of cricket) also just happens to be one of the details that Julie needs to know for her citizenship test, which comes up on Tuesday. So she spent a chunk of the weekend studying the booklet. We stayed overnight at the Holiday Inn near the airport (at the staff rate, wow, $49 instead of about $200!) and even the staff got involved in trying to help her to study. Then when I got online and checked the performance of the new camera setup, it had taken over 700 photos in just one day, so I got in and tweaked it a bit.

One of the other things we had to do was to find a replacement for the Starbucks mug that Julie had bought a few weeks ago and then lost it by leaving it in the bathroom at the Crowne Plaza. Why that particular model? Because it is made of stainless steel, won’t leak in the bike bucket and will keep her morning coffee at least warm until after lunchtime. We located a Starbucks that is relatively easy to get to on the way into Sydney and phoned ahead to check that they had them in stock. When we got there, they immediately recognised her accent and as the conversation progressed, they found out that we had just driven up from Canberra and that we hadn’t managed to find another one at any of the Starbucks stores there. They were very surprised when we bought two, so they gave us a free coffee to go. Then it was a quick skip back to the motorway and the airport tunnel, check in at the hotel, drop Julie off and head for the appointment. Just as well the new GPS works well.

On the way back, we took another back road and were almost back to the freeway when Julie spotted a camel out in the paddock. So of course, we then had to go up the driveway to get closer for some photos. Which just happened to be the driveway for Sydney Skydives, so then we had a look at planes taking off and people falling out of the sky, so to speak. All in all, a very relaxing weekend.

I got a nice surprise in the e-mails today, from the person in the ACT Government who coordinates street names. In Canberra, suburbs and streets are named after pioneers and local heroes. Doris has been nominated (not by me) for inclusion as Doris Turner Street in the new suburb of Forde, where the theme is Community Service. I’ll publish the citation here when it’s official.

Julie’s birthday started off with the alarm at 4:50 am, followed of course by “hit the button, please”. Then when she realised that she not in fact going to work in the dark, but instead to Townsville, her demeanour improved remarkably. We made it out the door on time at 5:30 and to the airport in plenty of time for the 6:25 flight direct to Brisbane. Julie AGAIN got randomly selected for an explosives test – she gets it every time! A short stop-over in Brisbane put us in the air again, into Townsville on time at about 11 am. On the way to meet our new managing agent at the new house, we called in at another possibility for an investment at Townsville Waters – some very nice houses right next door. The new house, now at lock-up stage, is very spacious and will be a real winner, especially with the quality inclusions. Then I checked out an almost completed project by the same builder as Townsville Waters and spoke to the Project Manager. He is so excited about it that he has bought one himself. What a recommendation. After that, the heat and the early start got to us and we wound down at the local pub.

Ok, here we are, back at the pub, after a day trip to the reef. It’s a 2 hour trip in a fast cat to get there and it’s definitely worth the trip. We managed to not get seasick, unlike a few others, as its open water out there and it gets a bit lumpy, although Julie did need to take advantage of some seasickness tablets. The snorkeling was just brilliant, although I did have my usual panic attack when I hit the water, but a few minutes hanging off the rope fixes that.

We also hired an underwater camera, especially with Julie’s parents in mind, as we can share the trip with them that way. I have to say it was worth the investment.

Part of the tour was to put us in a glass bottom boat.

This is a turtle.

I enjoyed it so much that I went out again.

See? Proof that I was there, with my face UNDER the water!

The cloud of “stuff” in the water is right after a parrot fish pooped in the water.

Here’s the culprit.

These thingies were collected by one of the staff and brought up onto the boat to show us.

Here you can see the animal inside.

OK, let’s head back in.


The view from Castle Hill.

It took us all day on Sunday to get home again. Checkout at 10 and we had to have the car back by 11 to avoid being charged by the hour, 2 hours in Townsville airport, easy flight to Brisbane, half hour layover, then one and a half hours sitting in the plane on the tarmac while they fixed an electrical fault. We finally rolled into home at about 8 pm. The good news: Only one of my coral cuts is infected.