Occupy Melbourne

As readers of Thomo’s Hole would know, I rarely comment on political issues (or indeed bag my employer, my potential customer base and those who may well be my boss at some time in the future, shallow bugger that I am). However, the following from the Melbourne Age kind of amused me in a twisted way:

Assistant Commissioner Fontana said 150 police arrived at the square this morning but the number grew to 400 later in the day.

About 100 Occupy Melbourne demonstrators, who had camped out in the City Square for a week as part of global protests against corporate greed, defied an order to leave by 9am.

Assistant Commissioner Fontana denied police used excessive force in breaking up the protest.

"We don’t really want to engage in this sort of activity but we’re not going to back down either," Mr Fontana said.

"We’re trying to use the minimum amount of force as possible.”

Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/protesters-arrested-as-chaos-descends-on-cbd-20111021-1mb07.html#ixzz1bOYY3876

OK, so that’s 400 police (plus horses and I am sure some dogs as well) to remove 100 protesters. That is Victoria’s definition of “minimum amount of force”. It will not be surprising if this grows more in Victoria as a result. Peter Fintan Lalor would be rolling in his grave I am sure.

Stupid Validations – Virgin Broadband – Oz

I went to register and activate my Virgin Broadband service today. Many of you will know that my nickname is Thomo the Lost – that is, “thomo” with a single “m”.

image

I was asked to register a user name that was to be included in yet one more email address for me (why can’t I just use my own bloody email address that I have had for 10 years now and that Virgin already has from my mobile service?).

I went to register variations of “thomo the lost” only to be told each time that the “email address is not available”.

I checked “thommo” and was told that was used, so I tried “thomo54” (no prizes for guessing what the “54” was).

I received the “email address not available”. When I changed it to “thommo54” it all went through.

So now Virgin, you have insulted me. You have prevented me using a nickname I have used for 10 years because it appears as though the problem is the name has the string “homo” in the middle of it. Virgin Broadband is using the same validation tools as Facebook is (where I was similarly prevented from using “thomo”).

Hello people, this is 2011. We have ways and means of determining if “naughty words” are being used in someone’s userid without having to be so bloody simplistic.

How did it end I hear you ask? I used “thommo54” and was told that the backend apparently had a problem that the technicians were looking at (seriously – and after banning “thomo54” as a userid). I was told to please try again later. I did, and guess what – Virgin then told me “Sorry, your service has already been activated. Please contact support if you feel this is an error.?

So, my user experience with Virgin Broadband after one whole hour of involvement – poor. Starting to wonder whether I should just move my mobile service now!

Commonwealth Bank – Overseas Transaction Fees

I travel. I have travelled recently to Singapore and the Philippines a couple of times. I have used ATMs against my debit card to draw cash whilst overseas. The Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA) has finally managed to bamboozle me on the fees until I sat down and worked it all out.

The first thing I should say is that I spent about an hour on the CBA website (http://www.commbank.com.au/) looking to find out how these fees are calculated. Unsuccessful. So, firstly, a summary of the transactions:

Location Date Bank Foreign Currency Aussie Dollar Equivalent Fee Charged % Charge
Singapore 11 Oct 2010 DBS Bank SGD 200 163.69 5.00 3.05%
Singapore 18 Oct 2010 ANZ Singapore SGD 100 78.03 7.34 9.41%
Singapore 25 Oct 2010 HSBC Changi SGD 200 157.67 9.73 6.17%
Singapore 1 Nov 2010 OCBC Singapore SGD 100 79.18 7.38 9.32%
Manila 13 Oct 2010 BDO PHP 8200 191.94 10.76 5.61%

I’ll admit it, I am was perplexed at this point. There does not seem to be any consistency in the charges – well, except for the ANZ and OCBC charges in Singapore. As they were so similar, there needed to be some type of consistency. The CBA is, after all, a bank and does not do inconsistency well.

I decided to make a guess and assume (yes, I know, always a risky business) that the charge is a combination of a fixed and floating percentage. So, if I guess a little and say the charge is AU $5.00 per transaction plus 3% of the transaction amount in Aussie dollars then that gives me the following:

  • ANZ – $78.08 – fee calculation is therefore $5+(78.03×3%) = $7.34
  • OCBC – $79.18 – fee calculation is therefore $5+(79.18×3%) = $7.38

So far so good. Now let’s apply this calculation to the rest of the table:

Location Date Bank Aussie Dollar Equivalent Fee Charged Fee Calculated Difference
Singapore 11 Oct 2010 DBS Bank 163.69 5.00 9.91 -4.91
Singapore 18 Oct 2010 ANZ Singapore 78.03 7.34 7.34 0
Singapore 25 Oct 2010 HSBC Changi 157.67 9.73 9.73 0
Singapore 1 Nov 2010 OCBC Singapore 79.18 7.38 7.38 0
Manila 13 Oct 2010 BDO 191.94 10.76 10.76 0

Looking  better and now somewhat understandable. However, the DBS Bank at the top of the table still had me flummoxed. It seems as though the bank had forgotten to charge the 3% variable part of the fee. Forgotten? I don’t think so. Perhaps it was an arrangement between the two banks and therefore I should look for DBS ATMs in future? Or perhaps all is not what it seems!

I remembered that for that withdrawal one of the options at the DBS ATM was to do the transaction conversion from Singapore dollars to Aussie dollars at the ATM itself and I had said yes. In that case, it must be that the foreign transaction fee charged is just a flat $5.00.

So, is the bank getting at me? Yep. sure is. On 18 October, the mid rates between Aussie and Sing Dollars were around 0.795. On 11 October they were around 0.775. The rate for conversion on those two dates was, respectively, .07803 and 0.81845. This means that there was a foreign exchange premium added to that 11 October 2010 transaction. Effectively, it meant that the total fee I was paying by doing the exchange conversion on the back of the transaction was $11.69 ($6.69 on exchange rate premium plus the $5.00 fee).

Of course, had I let this process normally, and not taken advantage of the exchange conversion at the time of the transaction, then I would have paid a fee of only $9.68, effectively saving myself $2.28.

Well, now I understand the way these fees work and I suspect you do to. Moral of the story – when the bank offers you a nice service that looks like it will save you money it will likely cost you more – it’s just that you will not be easily able to see where the costs occur. Next trip I think I will take cash out in Australia and convert that to foreign cash the old fashioned way at the bureau de change in the country of arrival – let’s see how that goes.

Joys of Life in Australia

P1000262 I’ve always said, if there is no risk then there is no fun. Risk provides us with the zest in life. We play sport, we surf, climb mountains, take long walks in the bush and jump out of aeroplanes. It’s all risk and it somehow makes us happier with life. In the past a long country drive was also full of risk although these days we try and reduce that risk as much as possible by providing rest centres and “driver reviver” stops to enable drivers to take a break on long trips, thus reducing the fatigue. The picture to the left is of one such stop on the Federal Highway next to Lake George (itself a wonder) near the border between New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.

The driver reviver stop is good. Australian companies provide local charitable or social organisations such as Rotary, the Lions Club, the State Emergency Services and the local Bushfire Brigades with the makings for tea or coffee. Bushells currently provides tea bags and coffee whilst Arnott’s provides some biscuits as a snack. The social organisations then man the Driver Reviver stops and make tea and coffee for weary travellers. Those running the Driver Reviver will generally have a collection bucket out where travellers may make a donation.

The beauty is that you have to physically stop the vehicle, get up off your bottom (no drive throughs here) and walk over to the folks making the tea or coffee. The hot drink is free as are the biscuits. The cup the drink comes in also does not have a lid you can drink through so you really have to wait and drink the tea before heading back off on the road. All-in-all, a great way to ensure that a driver gets a break.

P1000263 Of course, this is Australia and as I mentioned above, we like risk. The photo to the right is on the way into the driver reviver stop photographed above.

Ah Australia … where in Australian nature, if it moves it will likely eat you or poison you – if it doesn’t move it will probably just give you a nasty sting!

Shelly Beach Nambucca Heads

shelly_beach

One of my favourite beaches on the Aussie East Coast, especially for a swim, is Shelly Beach at Nambucca Heads. Actually, pretty much every council area on the coast in Australia has a Shelly Beach 😆

The beach is unpatrolled (there are no lifesavers there) but there are usually no rips, or at least not strong ones, and as long as you exercise the caution we were all taught when growing up in Australia you won’t have any problems. It is certainly not my favourite beach for waves but as you can see, there are other compensations. The photo was taken in the late summers so it is not like it was a winter photograph.

The beach is well worth having a look at if you are in the area.

Visiting Brisbane

Panorama 4

I’ve had to take some trips to Brisbane recently. I’ve been here a few times before visiting family but they all live outside the city. These last few times I have actually been in the city itself and it has grown a little since the last time I was here – that would have been when I was about 12.

Night-time the city looks quite spectacular as well. These shots were taken from the South Bank looking across the river to the city proper.

Panorama 3

Hopalong catastrophe: Sydney surrenders to northern invaders

Hopalong catastrophe: Sydney surrenders to northern invaders.

Cane Toads in Sydney … nooooo!

The Sydney Morning Herald ran an article today talking about the spread of cane toads. In particular it noted that

Steve Cope, the director of Knock-Out Pest Control, said his company had 12 call outs for toads in the Shire [Sutherland Shire Council area] since November. Last year, there wer none.

12 call-outs!

What will happen to the state of origin now? Cane Toads and Cockroaches together in Sydney.

Must be time to move to Melbourne – wonder if Cane Toads are covered under a salarycap?

Australian War Memorial – World War 1 Aerial Warfare

PA312477 Back in September I went to the AWM Large Storage facility with the boys. That was great. One of the things I noticed on that trip though was that some of the exhibits we had seen before at the AWM for World War 1 – namely the FT-17 tank, the Mark IV and such – were at the Large Storage Facility. This meant that something else had gone on display at the AWM.

I remember too that back last year I noted that there was an Albatros DVa and Pfalz DXII Being Restored at AWM. This was significant for two reasons. One was the display that the War Memorial would have in the future and the second was that the restoration was a specialist job. Have a look back at that post and see what I mean.

PA312476 Last weekend, apart from having the Cold War Commander modern battle with Doug, I went with two of my sons to the War Memorial to see what had replaced the World War 1 tanks. There were now five old biplanes on display – an RE8, a DH4, the Albatross and the Pflaz as well as an AVRO 504K.

In addition to the aircraft, Peter Jackson (of Lord of the Rings fame) had been asked to put together a short film about World War 1 aerial combat. This film ran for about 13 minutes and stretched across a couple of screens. Jackson did the film for free. If you are at all interested in World War 1 aerial warfare, then seeing that short film is worth the time and effort to get to the AWM itself and the ‘planes are an extra benefit.

Some of the original research material Jackson used is available to look at as well.

Roadhouse Blues

I had the opportunity to travel down the Hume Highway to Melbourne recently – a road trip that reminded me of holidays with Mum and Dad as well as when I was in my late teens/early twenties and used to drive to Melbourne from Sydney for a weekend – leaving Sydney on a Friday night and staying at Frankston in those days, arriving early on Saturday morning, sleeping, then heading out for a party. Sleep some more after the party and leave Frankston about midday to drive back to Sydney.

So, I drove south, stopped at Yass, Wagga and Albury to visit some potential business contacts. The dog was still on the Tucker Box, unchanged from when I last saw him. What had changed and was sad though was the old roadhouses were now closed, located as they were off what is now the main road, replaced these days by McDonalds, Hungry Jacks and KFC. I remember as a kid my first Passport was provided by the Golden Fleece Petrol company (or was that Shell Oil) and every time we stopped for petrol or at a Roadhouse for a meal, the Passport was stamped by the staff.

My Passport has long since changed from one provided by the petrol station that showed stamps of Gundagai, Echuca, Mildura, Wagga Wagga, Cootamundra and such to one that is provided by the Australian Government and now bears stamps of places more exotic, such as Seoul, Beijing, Kuala Lumpur, Beirut and Brussels … but then, to a kid from Sydney, Cootamundra is exotic.

To remember back to the early programming on what was then 2JJ and quote Russell Guy when first broadcast in 1978 by Double Jay, “what’s Rangoon to you is Grafton to me” (or was it James Dibble that actually spoke the words?).