Farmville

While a few of my contacts on Facebook are busy playing farmville I’ve been playing a real life version.

For quite a while I have been growing vegetables and herbs that we use large amounts of and am looking to extend our little backyard farm going into 2010. Self sustainability is a little out of reach at the moment but reducing our reliance on commercially grown food has both financial advantages as well as reducing our global footprint.

For this post I quickly went outside and took three photos which I combined below. Since moving into this house I have removed a lot of lawn to expand this area as well as many large bushes that bounded the grass. I have replaced some of the bushes with citrus trees (not visible in this image) as well as planting bananas and grapes vines (also not visible below).

vege-patch

So here are the plans for 2010

I intend to remove more of the lawn  – Probably another 6 square metres which will be converted into productive beds. I am not a big fan of lawns anyway and think they are a frightful waste of resources, needing copious amounts water and fertiliser to make them look decent. I also spend so much time pulling the runners out from the garden and vegetable beds.

Long term plan will be to have no lawn at all (except for the front verge) and I’ve already made big headways with this out the front of the house.  As I still want the garden to be presentable when we have visitors over I need to think more on the implementation of this.

I’ll make a start on removing the small area of lawn after Christmas and, once  removed, I will be converting that area into a raised vegetable garden, as well as having a central area for perennial herbs.

Chickens have always been something I’ve wanted to get and we will be moving forward with that, starting with the conversion of the shed (which really only collects junk) into a coop. Originally I was talking about having them being able to roam the garden but Lia had some concerns about that so I’ll be looking at building an enclosed run for them.

Long term I’d really like to have a go at aquaponics but this is not something I’ll be doing any time soon due to the initial cost of set-up. Keeping trout in the pond would be great as part of the aquaponics cycle as well as a potential food source.

I’ll include some photos in upcoming posts.

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Debt Collectors – An open letter to Video Ezy

At the risk of writing TWO negative customer service posts in a row I’m going to share with you the overly heavy approach Video Ezy has at pursuing overdue return fees.

It turns out that in May 2006 Mandy, my housemate at the time, returned some DVD’s late. This fact went unnoticed because not long after that we started using the Video Ezy outlet in Ballajura instead as it was closer. Mandy moved out at the end of that year and it was not until I received a letter in the mail from debt collectors Legal & Commercial that I became aware of the problem.

I don’t have issues with the debt collector and,  after contacting Mandy, I made the payment immediately. What irks me is the way this was handled by Video Ezy who seem to have taken a very lazy attitude to this matter which does absolutely nothing to promote good customer service.

Quoting from the debt collectors letter :
“We are working in conjunction with our client Video Ezy Noranda, to remind you that the above $22.50 remains outstanding on your membership. As you would be aware, contacting every member by phone is a rather large task and is not always possible”

Wrong – Contacting your client by phone should be the very first point of call. There are many reasons why people miss payments and, whether legitimate or not, a phonecall will encourage most people to make payment immediately. In fact, an alternative debt collector Marshall Freeman state on their website that Proactive collection by telephone is “By far the most important step in collecting debt

Quoting from the debt collectors letter :
Please note:
1. A video store is not required to notify you of an outstanding debt.
2. A claimand is entitled to pursue outstanding debts for a period of 6 years.

Explain to me why a video store is not required to notify you of an outstanding debt?
If my clients are late with payment and I don’t chase them up then I have no one but myself to blame when my cash-flow dries up!

I’d also like to know if you think this is a satisfactory approach to customer service, especially in an industry that is feeling the pressures from pay TV. downward pricing of DVD media in major department stores and on demand video via the Internet and why it takes 3 and a half years to follow this up?

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Attempting to pay – When your web service upgrade doesn’t cut it!

This morning I attempted to pay my electricity bill online, however upon accessing the Synergy website to make the payment I discovered that the page that was cached in Firefox now diverts to a generic payments page giving you information on what type of payment options are available.

Failure 1 – The page talks about payments online but has no further link to it.
I’m proficient enough with web technologies to work out, after scanning the page, that the site has been upgraded and now they are requiring a membership login to complete an online payment. This fact should be described within the online payment blurb  for people who aren’t as savvy with current Internet design trends.

Furthermore, there is no immediate link to register anyway. You have to click on the “why register” link to actually find the link to register.

Failure 2 – I shouldn’t have to create a user account just to pay my power bill.
This is the point when the marketing department steps in and decides that they want to give people newsletters and hey, if we get people to create member accounts we can send them that way.. How about if we link it to payments…

Great idea as far as marketing people are concerned but from an end user perspective I do not want to have to remember usernames and passwords for a dozen utilities. All I want to do is pay my bill, and for that all I should need to do is have a secure form where I can enter my account number and the amount I wish to pay.

Failure 3 – The registration system is flawed and didn’t let me register anyway.
After attempting to register I was presented with an error message saying that some of my details were wrong although everything looked correct. After a few times I gave up.

This is a critical failure, impacting on both the service provider, who is failing to achieve the outcome (ie smoother cash flow and additional support staff hours)  and the end user who is generally left feeling irritated by the whole process.

Footnote – I was able to register in the end but…
Originally I tried a few times and gave up but during the process of writing this article I was able to work out that the missing element that was creating the problem in registration was my name suffix appears on the bill and they expect you to add it in on the form as well.  Mr, Mrs or Ms is generally not expected in a name field.

Despite this process the payment page is not even integrated into the member page. I was able to see my current bills but, upon clicking the button to make payment I then had to copy all the information off my bill anyway.

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Upcoming trip to Jakarta

We have a minor dilemma with our upcoming trip to Jakarta and it’s got nothing to do with the bombings at the Marriot and Ritz Carlton last week and the subsequent (and highly predictable) travel warning issued by the Australian government.

The airline we’re traveling with is suspending their Tuesday flights in mid August meaning that, while our flight to Jakarta remains unchanged, the return flight will either have to be two days earlier or two days later. They say this is due to economic downturn, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the terrorist attack has something to do with it.

The problem with this is purely the decision! The heart is saying it would be nice to extend the holiday by a couple of days but the head has really good and practical reasons as to why we should come home two days earlier.

We’re leaning towards head rather than heart, simply for the number of reasons to come back earlier – Being that Thomas and Cameron will miss a whole week of school if we return on Thursday (arriving back in Perth early Friday morning), that we’ll be really tired when Emily and James come for the weekend and of course I’ll have work to catch up on.

As far as work goes, I’ll be taking my notebook computer and organising a skype out number as well as getting a local cell number, so I’ll be completely contactable.

When it comes to holiday snaps I’ll probably be limited on the posting of photos due to the fact that my version of Photoshop is too graphically intensive to run on my notebook and my old old version of PS doesn’t run on Vista. I’m sure Lia will be posting some on Facebook though!

Update: We’ve booked the return flight for the Sunday, so we’ll be coming back two days earlier.

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Win 7 Approacheth

The release date for the latest flavour of Windows has been announced along with a nice little ad from Microsoft inviting me to upgrade. Thanks, that would be nice!

Of course, when I followed the link I knew deep down that this would be another of those “available to US residents only” kind of deals and so I was not surprised when, despite not saying anything on any of the pages leading into the shopping cart, there were no international options available.

As our state shares the same abrieviation as the Microsoft home state, I was tempted to select WA and see how far I got with it but in the end I figured it would just be a futile jesture.

I had a similar problem with Adobe when I upgraded my web developer package from MX2004 to version 8. I’d bought the package from Macromedia who had no problems letting me access the US store and downloading at that price. After they’d gotten bought out by Adobe that all changed and Adobe refused to let me access the store- I’d even cried foul on that citing the free trade agreement between the USA and Australia as a justifiable reason but in the end, due to time pressures, I was forced to pay the Australian price. Six months later I received an email from an Adobe office in Dublin saying that they concidered this matter closed. They hadn’t even corrosponded with me!

I am definately planning on upgrading – I am still running XP on three computers with Vista on my notebook. We’re already running Windows 7 Release Candidate on a testing machine and I’m liking it more than Vista.

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And now the front

One of the things I really enjoy is spending time in the garden. I think it’s a fantastic counterpoint to the amount of time I spend dealing with technology and computer issues. After spending so long in front of a computer it’s great to go outside and get your hands good n dirty.

I have been having increased success with growing vegetables, especially in the area of what to plant and quantities. It’s ok to open up the gardening books and read or to access information online but nothing beats hands on experience of discovering what grows well and what actually gets eaten.

Since I moved into this house in 2005 I have been doing quite a lot out the back garden. I have had a general plan since I first moved in and have more or less kept to it. I’ve still got things I would like to do out the back but we’re now starting to talk about big money so I’ll leave them in the “pipedream” stage for now.

Apart from removing the roses and planting two plum trees, the front has been left untouched but I’ve also had plans for that part of the garden for a long time and now I am moving forward with that.

The first thing I started with was the neighbours front verge, the area that’s between the road and the property boundary line. My next door neighbours on the west side are a corner block house and their house faces onto the side street. As they don’t look out onto that part of their verge it’s in a pretty sorry state.
Originally it had woodchips on to cover and keep the sand in place but over time, due to the action of weeds and vehicles parking there, the woodchips are beginning to sink into the ground.

There are restrictions as to what can be planted there. Generally speaking most people just have grass on their verge but I am really not a fan of grass, something I think is an incredible waste of resources and that takes a lot of effort to keep looking good and maintain. It’s also very invasive so once grass is in, it’s very hard to get out again. Most of my time in the garden is spent removing grass from the garden beds and veggie patch. With the main restriction being a height one, I looked for indigenous plants that were under half a metre tall and placed them out there. Unfortunately one of the plants didn’t survive however the others did and are doing well. As two are ground cover they should spread nicely over the offending messy ground.

Next I removed the concrete borders that separated the front lawn from the garden beds. I did this to extend the garden beds out further from the house. It is my intention to totally remove all lawn from the front garden and only have grass on the verge immediately in front of our house. Following that I removed the hedge that was on the eastern boundary of the property. I have a couple of trees in pots that will be going in there eventually but for now that area is my sand pile.

Sand pile?

That brings me to the next part of my work in progress and that’s the lowering of the verge. I still want to have lawn on the verge but the gentle slope up to the house is going. I started a couple of weeks ago and am now nearly all the way across the garden, dropping the level of the garden by up to 30cm.

My dad, when he came over suggested that I should just get a bobcat in and, for a couple of hundred dollars, could have the whole lot done in a couple of hours, but there are two reasons why I didn’t want to do that. Firstly a couple of hundred dollars would be better spent on front garden stage 2, the second reason is I wanted to do it by hand. It’s a lot of hard work but it’s very satisfying to watch the progress as I cut my way through the ground. Doing it by hand also allows me to take a little more time because I’m not wanting to start on stage 2 until spring.

Winter is also going to allow the verge grass to recover somewhat.

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Moving forward

Yes, it’s been a while since I’ve written anything and for good reason.

I have been very busy building up my business and trying to balance all the things I need to do. Last year I concentrated on building up, in effect taking things more seriously and treating it less like a hobby. As 2008 progressed I knew that I couldn’t keep working at my full time job and made plans to finish up there by the end of the year.

However, as we moved in towards October and November the media started telling stories of economic doom and gloom so I decided it would be better not to burn that bridge.

As a compromise I decided that I would go part time heading into 2009 and, as of the end of January that’s exactly what I did.

It took me a little time to adjust to only working 3 days a week and for the first week I was rather lazy, treating it more as a holiday and, as my job was in the process of paying out my holiday pay I guess I could afford to.

It’s now been four months and I’m starting to develop a good working pattern and, with the extra time I’ve had, been able to build up the business dramatically and the work keeps coming in.

I would like to concentrate 100% of my efforts on the business and will keep assessing my situation to see when this is viable but for now I’m still working at job x.

In the meantime I’d like to take a little time once or twice a week to start blogging again and perhaps visit a photo meme. I’m also setting some time aside to spend in the garden and am working on a large project, the first part of which I’d like to have completed before the winter rains really set in.

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Camping Holiday

When I was younger my mates and I used to hop on our bikes and head off camping. We went down south and up north but our final trip was a big one to the next major city, Adelaide, some 2,500 km away.

That one became our last trip as we started to settle down, have families etcetera and my ex-wife was not interested in camping or fishing or the likes.

Lia is a little more open to the idea of camping so in January we went down south to the Margaret River region and camped in Hamelin Bay.

We had a great time and it became an interesting exercise in clever packing, getting two adults and four kids along with all the required gear into my Hyundai.

We actually left the house at 8am as planned, something very unusual for us (ask any family with young kids and they’ll agree it’s not so easy to do) and headed to McDonalds in North Perth for breakfast.

I planned a no rush drive down to Hamelin Bay with aims to stop off along the way so the kids wouldn’t get too bored in the car and so our first stop was in Mandurah, although this was just to stretch our legs and allow the kids to rotate seats.

We didn’t go into the town, stopping instead at a Ranger Camping store just off the Mandurah bypass. Something that had become a necessity as, in the process of checking our gear the night before, I realised that the new air mattresses we had purchased had larger than normal air valves and my 12volt air compressor was not going to be able to blow them up.

Mandurah Bypass

Our next stop was Bunbury where we had lunch before heading on to Busselton

Busselton Jetty

From Busselton we headed on through Margaret River and then on to Hamelin Bay where we set up camp before heading down to the beach for a swim.

Hamelin bay is a nice sheltered bay which is well known for being visited by stingrays looking for fish scraps as people clean up their catch by the nearby boat ramp and so the kids were excited when they came up to visit.

Emily running from the Stingray.

Our first evening we had a meat and potato stew (I cheated and cooked it at home the night before) before playing Uno as it started getting dark.

The next morning we headed into Augusta and out to the lighthouse at Cape Leeuwin which sits where the Indian and Southern oceans meet.

Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse

We had lunch in Augusta before heading back to camp to go swimming again. Later in the afternoon we went for a drive in the local Karri forest.

Day three saw us head into Margaret River where we visited some art galleries and the local fudge factory before having lunch.

After lunch we went to Mammoth Cave, named because of it’s size and not because of the large extinct animal. All the kids were excited, especially James who had been pestering to go into a cave since the day before when he starting seeing cave signs.

We made a trip to a vineyard after the cave but as it was already getting late in the afternoon and places were starting to close we only got to one so it was back into Margaret River to get some groceries and a nice cup of locally roasted coffee which I drunk while the kids were playing at a park..

Our last full day was more for us than the kids but we did make sure that they were not left out, visiting another cave, this time a self guiding cave where we were issued with hard-hats and torches. Although Mammoth cave was more impressive in size, everyone agreed that this was a much more exciting caving experience.

We had lunch in Dunsborough before heading back to the wineries, a chocolate factory and place that roasted the coffee I’d drunk the evening before.

Koffee lovers heaven

We came out with two different blends, including one Balinese styled coffee and the best thing is that Yahava Koffee Works will be opening up shortly in the Swan Valley, around 10 minutes drive from home.

Saturday morning was pack up and head back home but again, we made sure that there was plenty of stops on the way so the kids could get out and stretch their legs. We saw the lighthouse at Cape Naturalist and had lunch in Busselton before heading back to Perth.

More Photos

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Self Portrait – December 2008

Some more Images from this festive season

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