Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Back to Base with Fond Memories

Arrived back on Sunday. Luggage turned up a week into the trip. Jetstar couriered it to our motel in Wanaka. By then, we'd realised that it was much more comfortable traveling with only one small case between us, a good lesson for the future. Less is more.

I was stunned by the glory of New Zealand. What struck me first was the wild beauty of the mountains. Australia's mountains are all very old, rounded plateus, weathered over aeons. The bush here is beautiful, but mostly shades of brown. In New Zealand, the mountains are high and sharp. The land is painted all the shades of green. I expected those features from watching "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy. What I didn't expect and hadn't read about was the fragrance of the country. Everywhere outside the cities and towns, the land smells beautiful. The scent of fragrant ferns and wildflowers bathes the breeze, infuses the bush, seeps into the car.

We came to the beach at Moeraki to view the giant boulders. As we walked back across the beach, I saw Michael O'Brien. I complimented him on his kilt and he told me that in fact what he was wearing was a filimore (my approximation at spelling)--a precursor of the kilt, and not, as is the kilt, tailored. He told me he'd made all his clothes by hand without the use of a sewing machine. He said he was a bookbinder: not an occupation one encounters every day. I asked if I could take a photo of him and he agreed. I asked if it was OK to put it on a photo sharing website and he said it wouldn't be the first time.

Most of his life, Michael O'Brien told me, he'd been trying to find a community of like-minded folks, who believed that consumerism was to be rejected, a community of tradespeople who could live together and trade in their services and skills and be self-sufficient. He said that the world's resources were finite and unsustainable. He told me he'd lived in Auckland, the most populous place in New Zealand and not found one other person who thought as he did, but in the town where he now lives there are many others who think as he does. I didn't like to show my ignorance of the local geography by asking which town he was referring to. I let it go, shook hands, exchanged names and walked back to the car. We still had a long drive before we could rest for the night.

The next town was Oamaru, a place I didn't know much about, but the sign to "Victorian Oamaru" drew me in the direction of the arrow and the stately white buildings which lined the street. There I saw the signboard, in the photo. The only regret I have about that day was that I didn't take another photo of Michael O'Brien. The one I got is a little out of focus, although I think the exposure, the colours, the background are satisfying, and Michael's posture reveals something of his personality. I did upload Michael's photo to Flickr & someone who saw it told me about this Youtube video: www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSRcyh0XLao .

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Thursday, December 24, 2009

MERRY CHRISTMAS from Franz Josef!

We’re now in the township of Franz Josef, having left Christchurch with not a whisper about where our luggage is or when/if we might see it again. PACIFIC BLUE SUCKS BIG TIME! Jo took my Property Irregularity Report at the office on Monday morning & encouraged me to call for news, which I did during office hours. They simply stopped answering the phone & I was only able to get a recorded message—telling me the office hours were 9.00 to 5.00 and that they were sorry they couldn’t take my call and that I should leave a message—on Tuesday and Wednesday.

So, I’m over it. I’ve stopped calling now (well, it’s Christmas Day) and I’ve got used to my new cheap wardrobe.

I scooted around Christchurch for a couple of days taking photos. We crossed the Southern Alps on the Tranzalpine on Wednesday and it was breathtaking. Yesterday we walked on the Franz Josef glacier. It’s probably the most strenuous thing I’ve ever done, apart from pushing Alex out. (Well, perhaps it’s just the most strenuous thing I can remember doing. Perhaps when I was younger and stronger I did more physically difficult things, but I can’t remember any.) I don’t think I have too many more years left when I can think of attempting such a climb. But I’m glad to have worn cramp-ons on big old walking boots one time in my life.

Franz Josef glacier and its brother/sister, the Fox glacier, are the glaciers closest to sea level in the world, (just 300 metres above) and only 19 km from the Tasman Sea (or the ditch as we call it in our part of the world). It's quite comfortable, as far as temperature is concerned, to climb the glacier in the summer. Apparently Australia is to blame (to be thanked?) for the large volume of precipitation here: the glacier gets 7 metres of snow a year. Warm hot air comes across the ditch & hits the Southern Alps & can't go through them, so rises and forms precipitation when it hits the high cold air. Voila! Glaciers and a very wet west coast.

OK, got to get inside now. Am being eaten alive by sandflies & I can only access the internet from the office, which is now closed, so I'm sitting on the bench outside. More later.

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Sunday, December 20, 2009

JETSTAR SUCKS: A Bagless Lady in Christchurch

Arrived at Sydney Airport about 3.3o for ourflight to Christchurch at 5.10. We would arrive in the capital of New Zealand's south island at 10 pm or so, but that was the earliest flight I could get on Sunday. Picked up the boarding passes, went to gate 25 and waited with the others.

About 4.30, when we expected the boarding announcement, we hear: "This is an announcement for passengers on JQ151. The flight has been delayed due to infrastructure and baggage room issues. Jetstar regrets the 30 minute delay to the flight and thanks you for your patience."

What is a "baggage room issue", I wonder. Have some pollies been debating on the carousels? I sit and read the paper, glancing up sometimes to watch the munchkins crawl over the carpet. One little blond boy whizzes around making whooshing noises, his grubby security blanket billowing behind him like Superman's cape.

A little while later and another announcement citing the ongoing "issues" with the luggage and regretting the delay. And then we're told we will be boarding in five minutes. People perk up, and then passengers with seats from 15 to 30 are invited to board. Ours are 29 and 30. Even though you'll read in the Wikipedia link for Jetstar that it allows passengers to choose seating when booking online, unfortunately it hasn't perfected that revolutionary practice as yet, and my son and I would be seated one row apart.

The Korean lady, who'd shared with me her occupation (she is a housewife), her recent past (she'd been on a three-day tour of Australia), and her future plans (she was now flying to New Zealand for a three-day tour) asked me what was happening with the flight. Explanation was difficult as her English language confidence exceeded her ability. However, I showed her five fingers and pointed to her watch. She smiled and nodded.

When I got to the front of the queue and handed over my boarding pass, I pointed out Jetstar's mistake in our seating arrangements and asked if Alex and I could sit together. She said that it was impossible change the seating at this time: the plane was fully booked; I might be able to negotiate with other passengers once the plane had taken off. The girl took Alex's boarding pass and placed it back into his passport and handed it back to him. Mine she lingered over.

"Oh, you've dropped off the system," she told me. "Someone else has been assigned to your seat, even though you have a boarding pass."

"What does that mean?" I asked her.

"The plane's fully booked," she told me. "There aren't any extra seats."

I repeated the earlier question. "I just have to speak to my supervisor," she said, and for the next 40 minutes or so, the three staff discussed my situation with the supervisor and among themselves, but not with me. I waited and watched as all the other passengers boarded. I stayed close so that I could listen in to their conversations for news of my plight because they were not sharing anything with me directly.

Finally Carolyne, a beautiful young woman from Fiji, said that they had arranged for me to get a Pacific Blue flight which was leaving soon and that she would walk me to the gate. It was a couple of kilometres over the polished tiles to gate 63. When we got there Carolyne hesitated. I said, "You're staying with me. If you don't organise my flight, they won't know what's happening."

"Yes, but there doesn't seem to be anyone here from Pacific Blue."

She was right. There were no Pacific Blue staff behind the counter, but many agitated people milling around and three of them now appr0ached us.

"When are we boarding?" asked a man from the U.S.

"Sorry, I don't know," answered Carolyne, "I don't work for them. I work for Jetstar."

"We've been calling the Pacific Blue office and they keep telling me they're sending someone, but no-one's come," said a young Aussie guy. "Can you tell them to come?"

"Sorry, I have no connection with Pacific Blue." But she was doomed. Her red blazer made her stand out and every few minutes another desperate passenger approached asking for news of the flight. They'd been in the lounge waiting for an hour and a half with no information and no airline staff. A Pacific Blue guy finally came and asked some of the passengers what was going on.

He went down the passageway with a couple of colleagues, whipping through the self-locking door down to the on-ramp and away from the approaching group of irate passengers. After about half an hour, two Pacific Blue staff arrived. One of them, Marija, had been sent down to solve the chaos, after being hired by the company about five minutes earlier. As I watched them put my details into the Pacific Blue manifold through trial and error, Carolyne suggesting a fix when they weren't able to enter the information, I had an uncomfortable thought that my problems were probably not over yet.

Well, we did finally get onto the Pacific Blue flight and arrived in Christchurch about 2.30 a.m. on Monday. My foreboding when I watched the three inexperienced women on the computers the night before was realised. We had arrived in Christchurch with our carry-on luggage which included this laptop and a camera, but no spare undies or a toothbrush. (From this, dear readers, unfortunately you get a very good view of my priorities.) The taxi dropped us at the Ibis Hotel down the lane from Cathedral Square and right next door to a luggage shop.

Have not heard good news from the lost baggage people at Christchurch Airport. Am off to find a change of undies, a toothbrush, and perhaps something a bit warmer to wear. (It's bloody cold with that wind, though the skies are very blue.)

More information about Christchurch anon.
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Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Change of Seasons

I love this time of year in Sydney. The winter quilts come off & they're stowed at the top of the wardrobe until next May. The weather is not very hot yet, not as hot as it will get over the next five months. It's warm enough to go about with thin cotton clothing, no sleeves, shorts, but not so hot that you have to cover up and race for shade to escape the baking radiance of the sun.

On Botany Bay, the kiteboarders get out in the wind and ride the choppy water.

In November the jacarandas bloom: lovely exotics. Strong perfume of jasmine on the night breeze and the Christmas trees turning pink and then red. No Christmas beetles these days, though. When I was a child, November and December meant flying hordes of them. My brothers caught them, raced them in competitions. Colours like gemstones.

And more recently in Sydney, November means Sculpture by the Sea, ranged along the cliff walk from Tamarama to Bondi Beach.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Images from the Blue Mountains

Spent a weekend in the Blue Mountains with my yoga teachers and classmates. This is the view of the Megalong Valley from Kanimbla Retreat at Blackheath.
And here are some of the flowers around the bush on the property.

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The Resolution of the Optus Saga . . .?

Just to follow up the previous post, at my wit's end, I contacted the TIO (the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman) by email, describing the situation. They got back to me telling me that I should give Optus 10 days to recify the situation. (In addition to the seven or so months they'd already had.) I was not happy with this because I was about to start working in a new position which necessitated me being at the college until 9.30 on Wednesday nights. I wanted my son to be able to reach me on my mobile phone.

SingTel Optus Pty LimitedImage via Wikipedia

At the same time, I had found the only person who actually does any work in Optus (I mean apart from the labour of apologising, wishing people a nice day, and taking garbled messages). His name is Petrit and he managed, in one hour, to do what a host of people had not managed to do in over seven months. He called me and told me that I would need a new SIM card. He said that it would be faster if he organised a SIM card for me at my closest Optus shop, and took the sim number from the shop assistant, to begin the process of having it turned on before I picked it up.

He looked up the closest shop for me and I was there in an hour to pick up the SIM card which was effective: I was able to make and receive phone calls immediately.
With communications anything is possible! I agree Optus. If your valued clients are willing to hang on for 6 months, it is possible to find someone actually working in communications in Optus.

Thank you Petrit. Big gold star for you! Brickbats for your employer.

However, seems that the saga has still not reached its last page. Yesterday I got a phone call from a man in India. He said he was an Optus employee checking on how I liked the service (Ha!). I told him that getting my mobile service turned on was marginally less painful than pushing my son out of my womb and took nearly as long as the pregnancy. He said that he would ask about that soon but first he needed my date of birth for "security reasons". I said that, as I couldn't check who he was, I felt insecure about giving my date of birth. I asked for his employee number. He didn't hear that. (In fact, I wondered if he could hear very much at all. He was shouting down the phone line so loudly that I had to hold the mobile away from my ear, to avoid injury. )

In spite of the volume of his monologue, I was able to make out perhaps 60% of what he was trying to shout. Virtually incomprehensible to me, despite my skill at comprehending the English of less-than-fluent speakers which has been a large part of my job for the last 30 years.

So he said he could ask me another security question: when was the mobile service established? I told him the date it was turned on and he said that was wrong. His records showed that it had happened earlier. I told him his records were wrong, and that I was beginning to experience a flashback to the earlier trauma caused by my trying to deal with Optus. I begged out of the conversation. And now I contemplate my next round: the calls that I will have to make in a week or two when the first mobile bill comes.

I did, however, get a call from the Optus complaints resolution department in Perth, on the day the mobile was turned on. I told John about my dealings with the company and he asked how he could make it right for me. I said that money was the bottom line and that Optus could compensate me for the disservice it had done me. He offered a credit of the first six months of charges to the that mobile number. I agreed to that. We'll see whether it happens. If not, I'm going straight back to the TIO. It seems to get results.
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Friday, October 9, 2009


I have been distracted in the past couple of months with the frustrations that using newish technologies elicit. The biggest frustration is having to tell your pathetic Luddite story to one call centre technician after another in Bangalore, or Delhi or Manila; being tossed from one to another, like human remains between tiger sharks. I know I need to calm down, take some long slow breaths, do a downward dog or an ardha chandrasana, but that's not what I do. Never one to take good advice, especially from myself, I get irritated, then angry, then sleepless.

At the beginning of September, I bought Adobe Photoshop Elements 6 for the Mac. I'd watched video podcasts on the amazing effects one can produce with the software and I lusted after it. I found a good price from a place in Sydney. With the student/teacher discount the price was just under $100. (The Mac Shop sold the same item for $196! Unbelievable! How can they justify a 100% markup? )

So elated with the new toy, I sashayed home, loaded the software and, well, not very much really. I played and played and watched many video podcasts, and over a month of playing I worked out how to use some of it. The problem with the software was that the help screens were not helpful. They are factual in a kind of Wikipedia way; they describe what the program can do--they don't tell you how to do it. What I needed was an Ikea kind of manual.

There are a great multitude of people and companies who will happily sell you courses to teach you Photoshop Elements; however, the courses cost more than the software. The free video podcasts on iTunes were very informative, though. The more I learned the curiouser I became. I was able to follow and carry out some of the transformations guided by the beginner podcasts and began creating funny (to me) composite photos starring friends and family.

But there was something curious: the Elements screen I saw on the podcast videos was not exactly the screen I saw on my computer when I opened the program. These podcast people had lots of fascinating little thumbnail icons on the right of their screen under the rubric "Effects": shadows, boxes, colour swatches, patterns--all the fascination of a treasure trove of possibilities. I, on the other hand, was only able to see a rather depressing grey rectangle, and, when I moved my cursor to the area, a black circle with a diagonal line through it, denoting something is illegal.

I found an on-line bulletin board and asked my question: Where are my "effects" and got very timely answers. (Someone was out there to hear me scream.) I searched my hard drive and found a funny little file which I chucked in the trash, following instructions, but I still couldn't see the "effects". I uninstalled and reinstalled the program a couple of times, but still no luck.

There was nothing for it: I would have to go to that place where we all would rather not--I would have to call the service desk in India.

Now, perhaps I am overstating the case, here. There may be people who are unperturbed at the prospect of waiting on the line, being misdirected, waiting on the line again, and repeating their symptoms to two or three or four people, all of whom seem to have learned the lesson about apologising and wishing clients a good day, but generally lack some other vital skills: notably a knowledge of the product and comprehensible pronunciation: specifically, intonation.

However, this time I did finally speak to a helpful technician, Kanal, who stayed with me, talking me through a series of procedures for an hour and, voila, I could now see all the missing bits of my program. Seems I had to log on as an administrator to access the "effects". Why, I have no idea; never encountered a program before that had bits only accessible to administrators. So I logged on as an administrator. The next problem was, I couldn't access my "Pictures" folder with my photos on it, which is saved among the Elements folders, if I logged on as an administrator. So . . . I changed my log-on details so that both the username and the admin name have the same rights and thought myself very clever indeed.

This problem was relatively short-lived; it took just a couple of weeks to solve. However, I am still grappling with another problem involving regular phone calls to India, which has been festering for SIX MONTHS!

In April I was contacted on the land-line by an Indian guy calling himself Nates, who provided me with his Optus (an Australian--actually Singaporean, I believe--Telco) employee number: CP405549. He asked me if I would like a whizz-bang new mobile. I was not interested, actually. Came to mobile phones very late and I was happy with my bottom-of-the-range machine: no camera, no graphics, no access to email or the internet. I just used it to make phone calls to keep in touch with my son or to tell the office if I was stuck in a traffic jam on my way to work. So that bit did not fill me with lust. However, I had been unhappy with my bandwidth allowance and knew people who had a much bigger allowance for less outlay with the same company. So I told Nates that, and he promised me a deal which included more gigabytes of bandwidth (10 as opposed to my 6) and this new mobile set, which would arrive in a couple of days. I would not have to do anything, according to Nates--Optus would do everything: turn on the mobile at a prearranged time and institute the new bandwidth allowance at the beginning of the next calendar month.

Well, at the beginning of May Optus did not supply me with the promised 10 gigabytes of internet access. They supplied me with 7 gigabytes. Even though I did complain on the 1st of May, you have to tell them BEFORE the beginning of the month if you want your allowance changed the next month. Catch 22 is that you don't know what your allowance will be until you access your account on the first day of the new month. So, I had to wait another month for the promised increased bandwidth allowance.

The mobile phone, though, arrived a couple of days after Nates' phone call, as promised. I opened the package and inside was a warning that if you opened it, you could not change your mind and send the phone back in the 10-day cooling-off period. Tricky that, putting those instructions inside the package, instead of outside. OK, though, I played with the machine and waited for Optus to port my mobile number, as they said they would do. A few days later, I was still not able to make calls from the new phone. OK, I thought, doesn't worry me. I'm happy with the old phone. As long as they don't start charging me for phone calls, I'm sweet. I'll just put the phone into a drawer & forget about it. Which I did, until a month ago.

In September I got a letter from Optus giving me a deadline to ring them at a Melbourne phone number and explain why I hadn't got the phone turned on. I rang and explained about Nates and his assurance that I would not have to do anything. I quoted the information inside the telephone package which said the same thing: the number will be automatically ported in a couple of days. Carry the two phones on the agreed porting day.

Andrew in the Melbourne Optus office said they'd have to get me to agree, over the phone, again, to have the number ported from my old Telco, Virgin, to Optus. He said he'd ring me back when that was organised. When he got back to me, he appeared to have forgotten what he'd just said and talked about my sending back the phone. I said I'd opened it, but if he wanted me to do that I would. He said they wouldn't accept it because I'd opened it, but I would have to pay for it now: $300. I said that if they sent me a letter demanding $300 I would close all my accounts with Optus & choose another Telco. He said I was free to do that.

I waited for the letter. It didn't come. What did come was a text message, on my old phone, saying that the number would be ported in the next couple of days. Nothing happened. I got back to Optus. Someone played a tape to which I responded by agreeing again to have my mobile number ported to the new phone. That was about a month ago. Nothing much happened for all that time, except I spoke to Delhi four or five times asking them when the number would be ported. I insisted on speaking to the call centre worker's supervisor, Brian, a couple of times. But the problem with the call centre is that they don't do the work, they just take messages. No-one will give you a direct number to the people who do the work.

The most recent change in my situation is that since Monday this week, my number has been partially turned off from my old phone. As I said earlier, this is now six months after Nates' original phone call. Now, if someone calls that number, they get a message that it has been disconnected. Very useful for staying in contact with my son, work and my friends. I can still, however, make calls using that number from my old mobile set, but not from the new one.




Please watch the dead parrot sketch for a more informed understanding of the way I feel. I am John Cleese trying to get it through the thick head of a mall full of Scandinavian Blue salesmen that their birds are deceased.

Oh, and don't try to call me. My number has been disconnected. I'll call you.

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