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Andrew Pollock


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Thursday, 11 April 2013

Differences on how one purchases petrol

The differences between how one fuels one's car are quite pronounced, between California and Australia.

Firstly, if you're paying with plastic, it's a given that you can pay at the pump. I could count on my hands the number of times I've had to walk into a gas station to pay for gas in the US. Having a small child, I was not looking forward to having to either leave her in the car so I could pay for my petrol, or having to deal with all of the rigmarole of getting her out of her car seat, just so she can accompany me inside the petrol station to make a brief transaction and then have to get her back into her car seat again.

Not to mention how it drags out the whole process. Yesterday I had to wait for a pump while everyone leaves their car, queues inside to pay a single cashier, and then returns to their car and drives away. It'd be an interesting Productivity Commission report to see how much time is lost, just so people can be tempted by the high-margin items inside.

Then there's pumping the petrol. California, being all hippy, requires all the fuel nozzles to have these fandangled "vapour recovery" things, which basically fit over the part of the pump that goes inside the fuel tank and does some sort of, well, vapour recovery. The upside, you're not sniffing fumes while you're pumping your petrol.

The other fabulous thing about Californian fuel pumps is you can lock the handle down, so you don't have to stand there like a shag on a rock squeezing the handle while a $100 trickles into your car. You can get back in your car and listen to the radio. Or clean your windscreen. Or entertain your kid. I'd love to know why Australian pumps don't lock on any more. I have memories from my early childhood of them locking on.

So yeah, I think Australians lose out quite badly when it comes to the petrol station experience.

I was pleased to discover that the Woolworths branded Caltex petrol stations seem to have some sort of pay at the pump infrastructure, it just requires you to have their specific credit card or something. I need to do more research, because if I can pay at the pump, I will.

[04:22] [life/repatexpat] [permalink]

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Day #10 of repatriation -- got wheels

Finally, finally, I've got a car. I had this grand plan of using a friend of a friend who was a car buyer to source me a car and have it ready for me at the airport when I arrived. That didn't work out so well, so I resorted to carsales.com.au and found something very quickly. I could have bought it last Friday, if I'd wanted to forego the RACQ inspection, but I hate used cars at the best of times, and so I want to do what I can do avoid buying a lemon, so I had to wait until Monday for the inspection.

I got the report in the early afternoon on Monday, and the only thing it highlighted was a bit of oil on the front differential housing. I contacted the dealer and he said he'd get it looked at. I got an SMS from him on Tuesday morning saying the car would be ready after 3pm, but by the time I could arrange with Kristy for a ride, we just missed the bank, so I couldn't get the bank cheque to pay for it, so we rescheduled for this morning.

The shipping container was delivered to Sarah's place on Monday, and there's been a steady stream of boxes arriving at my place. It was good to be able to transport some of those myself today, and there'll be more to move tomorrow. I need to sort out storage options, because one thing I don't want is for there to be too much clutter in my home. I think there'll be another trip to IKEA in my near future. At least I can do that all on my own now.

It's so great to have independent mobility again.

[04:15] [life/repatexpat] [permalink]

Sunday, 07 April 2013

Getting online

I'd decided ahead of time that I wanted to use Internode as my ISP, and had ordered a Naked DSL service from them and also decided to bundle my mobile phone with them as well. For reasons that only made sense to me 7 years ago, I've been paying Telstra to keep my mobile number going, but I've long since lost the SIM. My current phone has a micro-SIM anyway, so I needed a replacement SIM.

My grand plan had been to order the SIM, order the number port from Telstra to Internode, and then, well, profit from the moment I stuck the SIM in my phone. Unfortunately the port didn't go through as planned, and I was left incommunicado for the better part of two and a half days. I felt like I had my hands tied behind my back not having a mobile data service. It was also mildly annoying not being able to call people or be contactable, given the amount of running around I was doing. But it got resolved and is fast becoming a distant memory.

The DSL service required a Telstra technician to come out (I'm not actually sure why) and that was scheduled for Thursday. I happened to catch him while he was at my building's MDF, and had a bit of a chat with him. He was a Scotsman, and I didn't get all the details, but he was going on about how he was only there to operate on the exchange side of the MDF, and I'd have to get someone else to jumper it up to my apartment.

This wasn't what I expected from an installation service, but sure enough when I finally got around to plugging the ADSL modem in on Saturday morning, there was no line sync to be had. A call to Internode confirmed that he'd only jumpered it up to exchange side of the MDF.

What was even more annoying was I'm pretty sure I saw him yanking out jumper wires from the MDF when he was working on it. Jumper wires that connected the exchange side of the MDF to my apartment.

I was not thrilled with the idea of waiting (and paying) for a cabling contractor to come out and hook up a couple of bits of jumper wire, so I put out a call on Facebook for a Krone tool and a tone generator, and Brent was able to come through for me. He dropped the gear around while I was out shopping with Kristy, and when we got back, I located the pair for my unit, and rejumpered the existing jumper wire that I'm pretty sure the Telstra technician had disconnected. Lo and behold, my ADSL started working. I felt pretty proud of myself. It's fun operating at Layer 1 every now and then.

The FRITZ!Box Fon WLAN 7270 is quite the beast of a box. Not only is it an ADSL modem, it's a wireless router, DECT base station, VoIP thingy and an answering machine! I've managed to connect my Engin account up to it, so once I get a DECT handset, I'll be able to make VoIP calls through it. I don't need to run Asterisk any more.

[02:54] [life/repatexpat] [permalink]

Saturday, 06 April 2013

Day #6 of repatriation -- the crash continues

I was really not doing well by yesterday, I had developed quite the runny nose. I've discovered that it's neigh on impossible (from my sample set of two pharmacies) to get pseudoephedrine over the counter in this country. In the US, you have to provide ID and they report all purchases to the government and if you start buying too much, they come and kick down the door of your meth lab. Here, you seem to need a prescription. One pharmacy told me that 1 in 10 pharmacies will sell it over the counter. I ended up with the Australian equivalent of Afrin, which I don't particularly like, but it at least dried up my nose. Discussions on Facebook suggest that I may have been dealing with second-rate pharmacies, and the "big ones" would be more useful. I was also advised to try begging and pleading for Claritin-D. The damn meth labs have ruined it for everybody. It's too bad they can't come up with an additive that is safe to ingest, but would fuck up the meth cooking process.

Not content with only two marathon shopping days, Kristy came back for a third day of driving me all around town, as my quest for a sofa bed and a dining table continued.

It turns out that one does not simply walk into a furniture store and walk out with a sofa bed (or a dining table, for that matter). These things all seem to be on boats from China, or at best interstate warehouses, and most places can sell you something they know is in transit at best, but they're loathe to sell floor stock (for obvious reasons), and they seem to not have anything in a Brisbane warehouse (plenty of stuff was in Sydney or Melbourne and they'd ship it up). Plushhad a chaise sofa bed that had a nice sprung mattress, and was due in late this month or early next, and they would lend me something in the meantime, so they got my business. I look forward to having something to sit on.

We then had an epic time at Bunnings getting all sorts of random household stuff, with the obligatory sausage sizzle before and after. Oh, how I have missed proper sausages! It turns out I'm looking for something that doesn't seem to exist over here, Rubbermaid don't seem to make the plastic "shed" cupboards in Australia, so I'll have to look elsewhere (Clark Rubber seems to make something approximately like what I'm looking for).

Then I picked up some towels from Westfield Chermside and resumed the search for a dining table. I was really liking the idea of at least one bench seat, and we finally found a matching table, a bench seat, some shelving and a coffee table that would work as an entertainment unit, at OZ Design Furniture. They had a 20% off sale that made it all fairly reasonable. The entertainment unit was available immediately, and the rest of the stuff should be delivered in a couple of weeks. That just leaves finding some dining chairs that will go with it.

OZ Design Furniture had the most unusual delivery charging system. They charge by the flight of stairs. Living on the 2nd floor does have its disadvantages. At least I won't be moving out of here any time soon.

By the end of the day, I was totally done, but very happy to have finally sorted out the elusive remaining bits of furniture. I had my first night sleeping in my new home.

[23:43] [life/repatexpat] [permalink]

Friday, 05 April 2013

Day #5 of repatriation -- the crash

The jet lag, the lack of sleep, and the general pace of the week has caught up with me. I'm feeling decidedly run down today.

Leah volunteered to drive me around a bit today, and it was great to catch up with her. I decided to check out a white 2004 Forester that I'd found on carsales.com.au the night before.

I took it for a test drive, and it seemed fine. I transferred my NRMA membership back to the RACQ and upped it to something decent, and arranged for them to do an inspection on Monday. Depending on when the inspection report gets to me, I'll head back there with a bank cheque and I'll have a car.

I had another half-hearted look at furniture after lunch (I really wasn't feeling it) and then headed over to Woolloongabba to take a look at the condition of Sarah's apartment.

The low light of the day was leaving my packet of car-related paperwork (including my temporary driver's licence) on the roof of her car as we left Woolloongabba. It should only be mildly inconvenient, but I was annoyed with myself for being so dumb.

Tomorrow should be pretty quiet. I just have my bed getting delivered at 8:30am, then I'll stay in my apartment from then on. I think I'll just take it easy.

[02:03] [life/repatexpat] [permalink]

Thursday, 04 April 2013

Day #4 of repatriation -- delivery central

Today was spent at my apartment with Zoe. Harvey Norman were scheduled to deliver the fridge, washing machine and TV. Someone from Telstra was scheduled to come out and monkey with the MDF to get the naked ADSL happening, and my desk was scheduled to be delivered.

My parents drove us over in the morning, with some of our suitcases. Zoe was very happy with her new room and bed.

I was going to get a 1 hour advance warning of Harvey Norman coming, so we all went for a little walk around the neighbourhood to explore. It turns out there's a convenience store right next door, which is, well extremely convenient. I won't need to even hop in the car to get last minute bread or milk or anything like that. Very happy about that. There's also a really gorgeous little boutique deli/gourmet grocery that is easily within walking distance. The neighbourhood is indeed very nice.

Mid-morning, Brent dropped around with his daughter to say hi. Zoe had a good time playing with her as well, and we went out for lunch at the Hawthorne Garage. At the end of lunch, Harvey Norman called to say they'd be an hour away, which was well timed.

Zoe declined to nap again, so we just hung out waiting for the delivery. In the middle of them delivering, the desk delivery happened as well, and then as Brent was leaving, the Telstra guy turned up, so it all happened at once.

I set up the TV and DVD player and Zoe happily christened it all by watching some Play School DVDs, and then my Dad came back and picked us up.

So the apartment is now almost habitable. I just need my bed. That's scheduled for Saturday. I'm planning on sleeping there on Saturday night.

In the furniture department, I'm still lacking a sofa, a dining table and something to put the TV on. Leah has volunteered to help me shop tomorrow, but I'm starting to think I should focus on resolving the lack of a car, then I can do any further shopping myself.

Nick had set me up with a car wholesaler who was going to search for a used Subaru Forester for me, but so far he hasn't turned anything up, so I'm thinking I need to widen my net a little and use some other avenues as well. I'd really wanted for the car finding to be outsourced as much as possible so I could focus on other things, but it's not looking like that's going to be the case, and I really need mobility.

I got a notification from Internode after I'd left today that the Internet should now be working, so I need to configure the ADSL router when I next get a chance and confirm that's the case, then I'm all sorted for being technologically able to work from home.

[04:50] [life/repatexpat] [permalink]

Day #3 of repatriation

Not content with just one day of driving all over town, Kristy came back for another day of it.

I decided that rather than specifically shopping, I needed to do some of the more bureaucratic stuff, so that I could ensure things like the electricity could get put on in my name. I determined that in order to get the electricity in my name, I'd need to provide either a driver's licence number or Medicare card number. Unfortunately I remember separating my expired ACT licence and Medicare cards from my other random cards while I was packing up my temporary apartment in the US, but I can't for the life of me recall what I did with them, so our first port of call was the Department of Transport in Zillmere to get a new licence.

Talk about a painless experience. The most annoying thing was that on Wednesdays they open at 9:30am instead of 8:30am. We got there at 9:10am. I had Zoe with me, and Kristy had her daughter, and they happily played while we waited outside.

I just had to fill out a fairly simple form, and I was called up promptly and there were no problems at all. In under 30 minutes of walking in the door, we were driving away with a temporary licence. Vastly different from my experience with the DMV. I'll get the genuine article in the mail in a few weeks.

Then we headed over to Westfield Chermside to go to Medicare, Medibank Private, and as I was growing frustrated with how long my mobile phone number was taking to port from Telstra to Internode, a Telstra Shop to try and get a replacement Telstra SIM.

This is where I ran into more of a bureaucratic brick wall.

For Medicare, I wanted to get my own Medicare card (and number) again, instead of a shared one, and so I essentially had to re-apply. They wanted more than just a passport entry stamp and something with an address on it. They wanted specific documents with an address on it, and an offer letter to show I was employed, so I had to leave there empty handed.

Medibank Private was even worse. In a "shut up and take my money!" kind of moment, they told me to prematurely unsuspend a suspended policy, I needed to request a document from the Department of Immigration that showed my international movements to confirm that I was indeed back in the country. I've always found this somewhat ironic, given I'm sitting in front of a Medibank Private employee when they're telling me this, and I'm trying to give them money.

So I left there empty handed as well.

I grabbed some cutlery and crockery from Big W.

The Telstra Shop had a 45 minute wait, and as I didn't want to over-stretch Zoe, we headed back to my parents. I took the opportunity to open an electricity account with AGL, now that I had a driver's licence number. Zoe declined to take a nap, and was having a good time playing with Kristy's daughter, and they both wanted to stay at my parent's place, so we left them there and dashed over to Ikea to rectify the bed slat issue.

While we were at Ikea, my number finally ported across and my phone started working, which was a huge relief. Being uncontactable during a period of many interactions with random people was highly frustrating for me. Not having mobile Internet access for a few days of extreme mobility showed how much my phone is an extension of my brain.

I also picked up a bunch of other random stuff from Ikea, stools that hadn't been in stock the day before, drinking glasses, that sort of thing. We then dropped all that off at the apartment before heading back to my parents' place.

So it was another busy day of running all over town, and again, I'm very grateful to Kristy for volunteering her time to make it happen. Most notable accomplishments: complete bed for Zoe, electricity, and a working mobile phone.

[04:26] [life/repatexpat] [permalink]

Day #2 of repatriation

This was the first "normal" (i.e. not part of the Easter "long weekend") day. As it happened, Easter Monday was surprisingly retail-friendly anyway.

My friend Kristy picked me up in the morning, and we dropped past the real estate agent for my apartment to see if the tenants had happened to drop the keys back yet (they hadn't) and then we went to Ikea and bought a bed for Zoe a bunch of other random stuff. I also bought a bed frame and mattress while we were at the neighbouring Logan MegaCentre (it's not a bad shopping centre)

The bed frame is wooden and is taking 6-8 weeks to be made, so in the meantime, because I bought a mattress from them, they're lending me a mattress base. That's getting delivered on Saturday.

We then headed over to Harvey Norman in Fortitude Valley. We'd just got started there when the real estate agent called to say the tenants had dropped the keys back, so we stopped and headed back over to meet the property manager at the apartment and get the keys.

After that, we headed back to Harvey Norman and bought a fridge, TV, and a bunch of small appliances, and then headed back to the apartment to do some Ikea assembly. We'd just about finished putting Zoe's bed together when we discovered we'd gotten the wrong width slats for her bed. It turns out there are two widths of the "Sultan Lade" slats, and they're right next to each other in the warehouse. We'd picked up from the correct location, but I think the piles had become jumbled. Lesson learned: cross check the SKU as well as the pickup location.

It was a long day, and I was enormously grateful to Kristy for driving me all over the place, and generally helping me shop. I think it ended up being a 15 hour day for her.

[03:58] [life/repatexpat] [permalink]

Monday, 01 April 2013

On Queensland electricity retailers

So one of the first things I need to do when I get my apartment today is get the electricity on. I've actually already ordered ADSL, which shows you what I think is more important, but without electricity, there is no Internet...

It would appear that in 2007, Queensland opened up its electricity and gas markets to "full retail competition". According to Energex, they do the generation, distribution, and the retailer handles connections, disconnections, billing and green energy.

I still need to deal directly with Energex for power outages, reporting faulty street lights, requesting a tree that's near power lines be trimmed, and so on.

So if the retailers have no say in what price they're paying for the electricity that's being generated by Energex, I'm struggling to see what their point is. I guess they get to differentiate on customer service, but really, that's it?

It was also really hard to find a canonical list of retailers to choose from. I would have thought that'd be linked off Energex's "Choosing your electricity retailer" page, but no, it's buried in the FAQ.

Now it comes down to a case of doing a comparison between 11 retailers and trying to choose one. Or just going with the first one on the list. It's just electricity, people. It's a utility. I do not want to expend as much time on choosing an electricity retailer as I would my ISP (interestingly, it looks like Dodo has gotten in on the electricity retailing act).

But one could say that an upside of having jet lag and being awake since 3am, is that one has time to comparison shop the 11 electricity retailers, except I won't. I'll just write this blog post instead.

I have heard of one horror story, where a homeowner returned to living in his house, and had a nightmare time with one retailer because the previous occupants had an outstanding debt with that retailer, and he was trying to get a connection going with a different retailer, and lots of hilarity ensued. Except it wasn't hilarious. So I'll have to keep an eye on that.

My current thought is to go with AGL, because

  • there is brand recognition there from when I lived in Canberra and used ActewAGL
  • it looks like I can sign up online without having to talk to anyone (as soon as my damn mobile phone number ports over to Internode and starts working)
  • they're first on the list of electricity retailers

What's pretty crazy is that at no point from quickly skimming AGL's landing page for Queensland pricing is there any indication of kWh or an actual price for anything. There's lots of noise about discounts, and flexibility, and other nonsense, but it seems like the actual cost of energy is so buried, it's incredible. It seems to be all about locking in on a contract, which is somewhat amazing. This is just electricity, but they seem to have turned this into a mobile phone plan type of situation. Amazing.

After more digging, it looks like I can pay 5.5 cents per kWh for 100% green energy. Maybe.

[13:19] [life/repatexpat] [permalink]

Day #1 of repatriation

Well, we're back in Brisbane, for good. Now starts the long and involved process of bootstrapping a new life for myself. Fortunately it's slightly more familiar territory than starting up in the US was.

The tenants in my Hawthorne apartment have agreed to terminate their lease early, and I should get the keys tomorrow. The lease on my Woolloongabba apartment ends on Friday I think, and all of our stuff is scheduled to be delivered there next Monday.

My primary goal is to get my apartment habitable for Zoe and I as soon as possible. That means beds and a fridge, and Zoe's going to need some way of being kept entertained while I'm running around like a chook with its head cut off, which is most likely going to mean a TV and a DVD player.

This week is going to be spent doing a lot of running around. I need to get a car, get a Queensland driver's licence, get the electricity on, get the ADSL on, buy appliances, furnish Zoe's room, furnish my room, heck, furnish the whole apartment, really. It's going to be very full on busy. I don't want to race out and buy anything today, even though the shops seem to be open, because I want to measure up my apartment first.

The day's sole purchase was an electric screwdriver from Bunnings. There will be much Ikea assembly in my future.

[10:54] [life/repatexpat] [permalink]