Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Early morning airport observations

I'm at Perth airport again.  I arrived at 4:10am.  It's a very quick drive to the airport at this time of the morning.  In fact, I recommend 4am as a great time to get around in a city choked by traffic, compounded by roadworks.  My flight doesn't leave until 6:10am, yet here I am.

The cab driver who took me from the office back to my hotel last night spoke of taxi apocalypse this morning.  Apparently it's quite impossible to get a cab between 4 and 5am.  Everyone is going to the airport and there aren't enough cabs to meet demand.  To make matters even worse, something went wrong with a cruise ship and there are 3000 or 5000 people who are in Perth, filling the hotels and all wanting to go to the airport.  He told horror stories of Irish girls from Adelaide missing their flight all because they didn't understand the problems of getting a cab at that hour of the morning.

I had experienced the issue last time I was in Perth, so I decided to believe him.  I booked a cab last night with a pick up time of 4am.  My alarm went off at 3:20am which gave me enough time to have a shower and check out of the hotel.  I wasn't going to be late and have a cab leave without me!  I was in that cab at 3:55am and fifteen minutes later had checked my bag and was through security.  I'm here so early I have two hours before my flight leaves and none of the shops are open.

This morning I didn't mind being stopped for my usual explosives scan.

"Have you had one of these before?" the woman wielding the wand asks me.

"I'm the most scanned woman in Australia," I reply.

I remember my guest pass for the Qantas Club and decide that this morning would be the perfect time to use it.

So here I sit.  Looking around me, I can see that apart from the barrista at the coffee machine and the woman wrangling the pancake machine and a woman clearing plates, I am the only woman in here. If this was a nightclub, I'd be in business. Other guests are clad in the local uniform; this time the high-visibility shirts are yellow, not orange, and the men wearing them are reading the Financial Review, working on laptop computers or doing something on an ipad.  Spaces are filling at the benches and the tables and the level of noise is growing.  I imagine that in about half hour it will be crowded and noisy.

Pat is the barrista who is working the espresso machine.  A long queue of people snakes along the bar.  She takes orders from the next three people in the queue.  I order a latte and after me the orders are for a skinny capuccino and a soy latte.  Her eyes meet mine.  I can see her rolling her eyes and thinking "can't you just have normal coffee".

"How many coffees do you make in a day Pat?"  I ask her, smiling.

She smiles tiredly.  "Only about a thousand," as though that is all in a normal day's work.  For Pat, it is.  It's not even 4:30am and she looks like she's already half way through that number.

The coffee is good.  The practice is paying off.

The destinations on the departure board are still exotic to me, even though I've been here a few times now. It's now 5am and the first flights are being called: Paraburdoo, Karratha, Cloudbreak, Christmas Creek. They sound musical and unmistakably Australian. I look down the list on the departure board to find the familiar Melbourne, Adelaide and Broome.

Looking out the floor to ceiling windows wrapped around the Club the tarmac is on display.  A luggage trailer snakes along to the nearest plane.  Green and blue lights mark out territory and have meaning for those who know how to read them.

Meanwhile, text messages from Metro Trains back in Melbourne are coming through to tell me about train cancellations and alterations to services.  I am a long way from there and glad not to be standing on a train platform thwarted in my efforts to get to where I'm going.

Catching this early flight always seems like a good idea.  As interesting as it is, I'd rather be home in bed.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Modern problems - making toast on a conveyor toaster.

I travel a fair bit for my work and so often find myself in hotels.  This week I'm visiting Perth and am confronted with the upward pressure that the mining boom is putting on prices as tiny little three star hotels have prices normally associated with 4 star comfort.  This time, I've struck gold in terms of the price being commensurate with the amenities.  I've been reminded of some of the challenges of living on the road.

© divacultura 2013
I've written before about that particular dilemma of filling the kettle in the bathroom sink.  As you can see from this photograph, this is one of the challenges I am having.  I might end up taking the kettle into the shower with me to fill it!

This morning I was struck by another problem which is often encountered anywhere that bulk, self serve breakfast - otherwise known as the "buffet" - is being served.  It is another one of those modern problems that I'm sure you'll recognise - turning bread into toast in one of those conveyor belt toasters.

Yes, as I write this and remember to my experience this morning, I can see the nods of recognition around the world and hear the cries of "oh yes!" also signalling recognition.

The conveyor belt toaster seems like a good idea  You put your bread in one end, it travels between two elements designed to turn both the upper and lower sides of the bread into toast.

Now, perhaps I should take nothing for granted, check my assumptions, and make sure we all have a shared understanding of the word which is central to this discussion: "toast".  By toast I mean bread that has been browned on both sides and in the process of browning has become warm/hot.  When eaten, toast is crisp/crunchy.  When spreading butter on toast, the butter should melt and you should hear the sound of the knife scraping on the crispy toast.

So, if my definition of toast is accepted as universal, then what is the expectation we share when bread is put into a toaster?  Well I don't know about you, but I expect that the bread will be turned into toast, in accordance with the above definition.

That's not controversial or contentious is it?

So I approach the bread this morning at the buffet and take a look at the toaster.  It's a conveyor toaster.  I sigh.  I place the bread at the start and send it on its journey through the elements.  Out the other end, not toast, but warm bread.  The colour is exactly the same as what went in, that is, bread colour - it has not been browned; the temperature is warm but there is no crunch or crispness.  This is not toast.  It is merely bread which has been heated.

A grey-haired woman tells me urgently to "put it through again - it needs to go through again!" No kidding!  It's not toast yet.  But I am wary.  I do want toast, but I know what happens now, I put it through again and I get two squares of charcoal and the fire brigade standing by and comments from the grey-haired woman like "ooh, you can't eat that - it'll give you cancer! Charcoal is carcinogenic you know!"

I put the warm bread through again and I get charcoal.

I speak to the waiter.  He looks at me as thought I'm speaking Martian.  He then shrugs and says the magic words which I knew he would say: "It's set for raisin toast."  So just checking in here, raisin bread will achieve a state of toast at a lower temperature and in a shorter time than white or grain bread due to its sugar content.  If the conveyor toaster doesn't take account of this, raisin bread will turn to charcoal and the fire brigade will be called every time raisin bread is put in the toaster.

A dilemma?  Well I don't see the problem.  It seems to me that the hotel simply needs to be honest about what the objective of the toaster really is instead of continuing to pretend that the toaster exists for the purpose of turning bread into toast.  Clearly the objective of having a toaster is to make charcoal.  If we examine the process of creating charcoal, the various materials available and the efficiency in the process, the dilemma of what settings to use on the toaster is resolved!  Forget about the raisin bread and set the toaster to optimise creating toast for white and grain bread.  Doing this means charcoal is created on one trip through the toaster instead of two.  It's much more efficient.  Charcoal production is up.  Everyone wins!

If I want my toast to be black rather than brown, I'll slather on the Vegemite.

I hope you find this post useful.  Having clear definitions of things can avoid so many problems.  For example, I never would have faced the great Portuguese accommodation scandal as to whether a mini toast (that I would normally eat pate on) could be classed as "toast" for the purposes of charging for bed and breakfast.

Monday, 25 March 2013

Mobile phones at the theatre - detract from "Other Desert Cities".

Recently, I purchased a mini-subscription to the Melbourne Theatre Company's 2013 season.  It's been a few years since I had the funds and also the interest to invest in this way.  I've seen three plays and have two more to come.  Everything I've seen so far has been incredible - thought-provoking, moving, funny - everything you want live theatre to be.

On Saturday I went and saw "Other Desert Cities" at the Sumner Theatre.  The play itself has all the credentials - Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award nominations - and I'm not going to write a review of the play.  I will tell you that I tingled in the most dramatic moments and resolved into tears in the next moment.

As amazing as these moments were, they were spoiled.  It wasn't anything about the actors on stage, or the production itself.  No.  In the climactic scene a mobile phone rang.  When a mobile phone rings in this situation, it's not just the phone that causes a disturbance.  This particular phone's jaunty tune went for a long time, accompanied by whispers of "shit, shit, shit, shit" as the owner rustled through her bag. The phone is found and removed from the bag and the muffling effect of the bag disappears as the phone cuts clearly through the quiet of the auditorium.  The audience becomes restless.  Heads shake at the impropriety of it all.  There is a flicker of distraction that runs across the actors' faces.  The phone choked, we all return to the play.

Now, the climactic scene of this play is meaty.  Emotions are running high, secrets are revealed, characters shock us with their passion and deception.  You need to pay attention - you want to pay attention.  Then a second phone rings.  This one is two rows in front of me and I can see the owner.  Audience members around me start to groan and tut.  The phone is choked rapidly.  I want to choke the owner.

We settle back  Where were we?  Ah yes.  A third phone rings.  Just behind me - one row back, three seats away and within reach.  She actually leaves the theatre with her bag.  Good riddance I say.

Prior to the commencement of the play, a clear specific announcement is made to the audience, echoing the signs lining the entrance foyer:  "Please turn your mobile phone off."  The announcement even contextualises by adding "for the sake of the actors and the audience".

What is so hard about turning off the mobile phone?  Or if it must be left on, turning it to silent?  All three interruptions on Saturday occurred after interval.  Perhaps the announcement needs to be made after interval as well.  I find it difficult to understand why people can't take personal responsibility for this stuff anyway.  Why can't people consider their surroundings and be well-mannered enough to consider that it will be bad if their phone rings during the show.  Surely they aren't going to answer it while watching a play! So go on, switch it off.

Apart from being really annoyed myself, people were talking about the phones ringing, rather than the play on the way out of the theatre.  Such a distraction!  The actors did well (it must be so tempting to turn to the audience and berate them!).

Go and see this play.  And if you do, for goodness sake, turn your phone off!

What would be an appropriate punishment for people who leave their phones on?  Has your phone ever rung at an inopportune time?  What did you do?

Sunday, 24 March 2013

Sunday Slideshow

Working in different places gives me the opportunity to notice different parts of my city.  And waiting fro public transport provides lots of moments to stop and really have a look.

The Eureka Tower at Southgate is currently Melbourne's tallest building.  I've been noticing it in all different lights and different angles.

Eureka Tower I
© divacultura 2013
I like the perspective of this second shot.  The tower almost looks smaller than the telephone pole.  I also like all the straight lines going in various directions.
Eureka II
© divacultura 2013

Eureka III - Stormy
© divacultura 2013

Eureka IV
© divacultura 2013
I walk past the Malthouse Theatre precinct often these days.  There is a lot to look at. Orange is a colour that dominates the urban landscape around the area.  Here it's on the exhaust chimney from the Domain Tunnel (I think that's the right one).
Urban landscape
© divacultura 2013

Melbourne morning - perfect for hot air balloons
© divacultura 2013

French champagne and vintage tiles
© divacultura 
I've been enjoying playing with light and shadows.  Interesting to see the different moods.  The first shot was taken one afternoon at Southgate looking over to the CBD at about 5:30pm.

© divacultura 2013
The next two were taken on the same morning from the tram stop, looking over to Federation Square and Transport Bar.

Federation Square
© divacultura 2013

Transport Bar
© divacultura 2013
Have you stopped to notice your surroundings lately?  What have you noticed?

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Wild windy winds

Today was really windy.
Really, really windy.
So windy that it was an effort to walk down the street.
So windy I had to button my jacket so I wasn't trailing a spinnaker.
So windy my umbrella turned inside out at the very thought of rain.

As I was walking, I noticed a tiny little bird perched on a telephone line.
The wire was moving in the wind.
The tiny little bird was hanging on - its feet gripping the wire furiously.
The tiny little bird's body was being buffeted by the wind.
I bet its abs are switched on, I thought.
I wondered how the tiny little bird wasn't blown away.
I understood why it was gripping so tightly.

I had a vision of the tiny little bird letting go.
The tiny little bird would be swept up and away.
Perhaps it would work its wings.
Perhaps it would meet a terrible fate.
Slam.  Into a wall.
Slam.  Into a passing truck.
Slam. Into the ground.
Poor little tiny bird.

Today was really windy.
Really, really windy.
Upsettingly windy.
So windy I saw a tree split in two.
So windy the front yard filled with rubbish.
So windy I didn't wear lip gloss.

Today was really windy.
The trees have been well exercised.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Good things about myki & myki mysteries

I travelled into zone 2 yesterday on the train.  I had a zone one 7 day myki pass on my myki card.  It was great to be able to get to the other end and just touch off my myki and see it deduct the little bit extra for the trip in zone 2.  I didn't have to buy an "extension ticket" or do anything else.

That's something good about myki.

I catch public transport whenever I can, including when working for clients.  Keeping track of travel expenses and GST on the old Metcard system would have been a nighmare, to the point where I probably wouldn't have bothered, or I would  have driven my car and claimed that cost back.  I love the fact that with a registered myki card I can print a tax invoice of all my travel transactions, making it easy to claim GST and business related expenses.

That's something good about myki.

I only need one card to travel, rather than carrying a poker hand of paper cards to suit a variety of travel situations. (Although used tickets did make good book marks.)

That's something good about myki.

When I lost my myki, because it was registered I was able to get the money back.  (Even though they had to issue me with a new card to do it.  The process to get the money put to one of my existing cards - which I hadn't lost - involved filling in forms; whereas getting the money back on a new card could be done over the phone.)

The first bit - that's something good about myki.

How come online top up of myki isn't instant, but auto -top up - which you set up online - is?

That's one of the myki mysteries.

How come people vandalise the machines and readers making them hard to use?

That's one of the myki mysteries (or maybe it's just a mystery).

How come Qantas can give me an electronic bag tag which knows who I am and where I'm going and check me in in seconds, but myki has to be held just-so in order to work?

That's one of the myki mysteries.

How come a new exit at platform two at Seddon Station was installed a year ago and it's still locked up?  I watched a large number of men dig a hole and the open a space in the fence. A little while later two posts were installed for the myki readers.  Then they closed the hole in the fence and the myki readers were never attached to the posts.  Everyone still has to squeeze out of the tiny and poorly designed exit during peak time as everyone has to use two machines, rendered unreadable by sun glare and vandalism.

"Exit" at Seddon Station.
Those black posts are supposed to have myki readers on them.
© divacultura 2013
That's one of the myki mysteries.  And I still don't know what went into the hole.  I wonder if it was the architect of  myki?

That's one of the myki mysteries.

Wouldn't it be great if you could use your myki to pay when you use Melbourne City Council blue bike to get around the city?

Yes it would!

Why can't I buy a myki pass for 8 to 27 days, but am locked into 7 days or 28 or more days?

That's one of the myki mysteries.

Why do people insist on touching off on trams in the city?

That's NOT one of the myki mysteries.  All of the messaging says "When travelling with myki, don't forget to touch on AND touch off".  Some of the messaging adds "to make sure you get the lowest fare". Of course people are still touching off on trams - it's crazy to expect commuters to learn different processes for using a ticket depending on what kind of vehicle they are in!

Where do the dead myki cards go?  I really hope they can be melted down and made into something handy.

That's one of the myki mysteries.

I tried really hard to come up with more things that are great about myki, but I couldn't really think of any.  Can you?

Why aren't there lots of good things about myki?

That's one of the myki mysteries.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

It's myki madness time again!

Here's a story about myki.  It's also a story about stupidity.  Perhaps it's about bureaucracy gone mad.  Or it might be a story about losing touch with kindness.

A friend of mine works in a small boutique which sells clothing and accessories.  When checking the dressing rooms after a customer had gone, a left behind myki card was discovered.  Staff in the store put the card aside thinking that the woman who had mislaid it might come back at some point to reclaim it.

After a couple of days, there was no sign of the woman.  My community-minded friend called myki with the intention of reuniting the card with its owner.  She was advised by the woman she spoke to in the call centre that details could not be revealed because of privacy.  

My friend patiently explained that she didn't want any details, she just wanted to see the card returned. 

She was told by the operator that there was no way she could even go into the account that the card was attached to without speaking to the account owner.

My friend suggested that the card could perhaps be returned to myki who could then pass it back to the woman - provided of course the card had been registered.

NO.  None of that was possible.  No help could be given at all.  Because of "privacy".

This seems ridiculous.  It would make sense for myki cards to have an "if found return to PO Box 123, Melbourne" message.  Then details could be checked and cards/balances be returned.  Couldn't something like this work?

Maybe there is fear about some poor public servant somewhere drowning under a pile of lost myki cards.  

It could be made even more community-minded by donating to charity  the balance on cards unclaimed after a certain amount of time.

Privacy seems to have become a blanket excuse anytime big organisations don't want to go out of their way to help.  Usually it has nothing to do with privacy.  In this case, I understand that they wouldn't be giving the details of the card owner to my friend;  they don't need to and that's not what she was asking for.

So my friend has this myki card and she asked me what she should do with it.  I suggested that she could use it.  She was appalled and imagined a siren going off and a cage dropping over her the very moment she tried.  Thinking about it, if the owner knows they've lost their card and haven't been back for it, it might be registered and they might have rung up and blocked it, in which case the only thing for it is to throw it away.  (Or can cards be reset to zero and reissued so they are used for the term of their natural life?)

Seems silly to me.  Have you ever lost your myki?  (I have.) Was it registered?  How much money was on it?  How did you get home?

Mind the gap! It's between now and the future, Yarra Trams.

Yarra Trams has responded to feedback about dangerous overcrowding at the tram stop between Federation Square and Flinders Street Station.  My original story is here and the follow-up a couple of weeks later is here.  As well as writing about the problem and my experience on my blog, I also provided feedback direct to Yarra Trams via their website and twitter.

After the follow up post, where my frustration at the lack of response must have been evident, a lovely and diligent customer service person from the feedback team contacted me.  He was in regular contact to let me know the progress of the investigation of my issue.  Gold stars on that front.  Not only did he seem to genuinely appreciate feedback from a customer's perspective, he was prepared to engage in a conversation about what's happening.

So let's put this stop into perspective.  Here are the numbers:

  • the stop was refurbished to its current design and location in about 2002/2003.
  • patronage of the tram network in Melbourne has increased 30% in the last seven years.
  • 477,000 commuters "use or pass through" this stop each week.
That's a lot of people.  The numbers support my argument and evidence that the stop is very busy.  What I've experienced a few mornings recently is not a blip.

The current strategy to deal with overcrowding during the morning and afternoon peaks is to have customer service officers at the stop telling people to step back from the doors of the tram.  Have a look at those photos of the crush again.  Now review the current strategy.  Now place inverted commas around the word "strategy".

That's it.  That's what they've got.  

This reminds me of one of the occasions I was trapped in lift by myself.  I was in there for about 40 minutes.  When the bloke arrived to get me out, he yelled into the lift, "Stand well back!" I went from being terrified (he's going to blow the doors open and I'll be killed in the blast) to amazed (oh wow, they're going to blast me out) to apathy (what's the point of moving back, there's no where to go, I'm going to die).

Relief flooded through my veins when I learned that there is also a long term strategy being worked on.   Neither the details of that strategy nor the possible solutions can be revealed.  The time horizon for "long term" is unspecified at this point, but I imagine the steps involve:

  1. Gaining awareness that there's a problem.  Complete.
  2. Thinking about the problem, including consideration of a) whether there's really a problem.  Part a) complete, overall phase still proceeding.
  3. Consult with commuters.  Progress unclear.
  4. Formulate response to apparent problem, including options.  Progress unclear.
  5. Liaise with stakeholders (Public Transport Victoria, Melbourne City Council etc).  Progress unclear.
  6. Thrash out a deal in a way that resolves the actual problem rather than being subject to political expediency (although why these concepts should be mutually exclusive is a point of grave confusion. A long way off.
  7. Negotiate all aspects of implementation of the Solution.  Are we there yet?
  8. Implement solution.  Hmmm.
  9. Realise that solution would have worked five years ago, but is now inadequate with another 36% increase in tram patronage.
  10. Go back to step one.
Clearly all of this takes a really long time, but the actual time frame unclear.  Luckily, there is a long term solution!  In the meantime, we must be content with the "strategy" of telling people to stand back.

The next question I asked the nice man from Yarra Trams was, "And what's in between the current situation and the long term?  You know, the mid term strategy?"

I think the answer was either "there isn't really one" or "it's the bit between now and the future" - probably an amalgamation of these two ideas.  They shouldn't be in quotation marks - image they aren't there, I don't want to be accused of putting words in anyone's mouth.  Happy to put ideas in their heads though.  Oh, and it's definitely on the agenda.  And it's a priority.

So "mind the gap" has taken on a new meaning.  It's the gap between the current inadequate reality and the long term, far away foggy future; the gap between now and then, now and later.  Yarra Trams would do well to mind the gap themselves.

To avoid wearing out my eyeballs (all that eye rolling every time I'm told to move back in a human sardine can), I'm going to experiment with waiting on the footpath and using the TramTracker app on my iphone (also available in android) to determine when I should attempt the move to the platform.  I figure if I have eight minutes to wait until my tram, I could avoid adding to the platform crush but not waiting on the actual platform.  I'm worried about the fatal flaw in this plan - it could take me eight minutes to get onto the platform to catch the tram!  We'll see.  Anyone else going to join me?

Yarra Trams says they love to receive feedback from customers.  I believe them.  They just need to move a bit faster!  Why not give Yarra Trams what they love and tell them about your experience on the trams of Melbourne?

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Sunday Slideshow

I'd almost forgotten that I was in Perth earlier this week.  So much has happened in the days since then.  Arriving at my hotel at about 4:30 in the afternoon gave me the opportunity to go for a walk and recover from the flight.  I could also take advantage of the afternoon light.

I noticed that Perth city has some lovely old buildings and also facades that have been well-preserved.  Here is the St George's portico.  It's the original entry to a theatre which was on the site.  Of the original building, only the portico remains - now attached to a shiny, modern building.  At first I didn't notice the building behind;  I thought there was just a portico sitting on the Hay Street footpath.

St George's Portico
© divacultura 2013
 Shiny modern buildings, when bathed in the right light, often are spectacular with their taking of light and reflections.  I just loved this building which looks quite blue and reflects both nature and the old architecture on the opposite side of the street.

© divacultura 2013

© divacultura 2013

Perth has a lot of public art.  It's a great place to just wander around and soak up the atmosphere.  I found this sculpture outside the courthouse to be very striking, especially in black and white.

Court house public art
© divacultura 2013
 Back in Melbourne, I saw the Melbourne Theatre Company Production of "Constellations" on Saturday afternoon.  With the Grand Prix also on, St Kilda Road was very busy despite the weather.  (Our heatwave is over.)  I had half an hour to spare before the show, so I wandered around the shop in the National Gallery of Victoria.  I quite like this shot of the pool out the front - love how the water looks.

NGV, St Kilda Road
© divacultura 2013
 The water wall at the front of the gallery is always wondrous to look at.  On the other side of the wall, inside the gallery, a comic lounge has been set up.  It's a designated space with black and white mats and cushions and pens and paper to draw a page for a comic book. I took the next two photos of it through the water wall.  They remind me of Impressionist paintings.

Water wall impressions - NGV
© divacultura 2013

Water wall impressions II - NGV
© divacultura 2013

What do you like to take photos of?

Saturday, 16 March 2013

PINs, passwords & access codes -- gone walkabout.

My PIN for my ATM card went out of my head yesterday when I was buying some groceries and getting some cash out.  It just left.  I felt it go actually.  I could remember the first 2 digits and after than it all went wobbly.  I nervously tried four numbers and stared at the terminal, expectant.  I was wrong.  I tried another combination - same number but in a different order.  No luck.  I decided not to try again.  Perhaps I'd remember in the middle of the night.

So today, I tried again, with completely different numbers, feeling so certain they were correct.  This time I did exceed my allowed number of attempts.

I rang the bank.  Because it's linked to my business trust account, resetting the PIN over the phone is not possible.  I have to have a new one sent out in the mail.  I am pretty sure I know what it is now and apparently I can try again after midnight because the card resets.  I hope I've remembered it and am not just falling victim to a dose of wishful thinking.

I wonder what makes something like a PIN just walk out of your brain?  It's not like this is a new number.  It's been sitting in there since 2008.  Embedded is what I thought it was.  Just goes to show you can't relax about things like this.  I think I'll need to devise a drill where I run through all of my PIN numbers and passwords on a regular basis.  How regular though?  I can't afford the time to do it daily!  There are so many access codes these days.  I added a new password during the week and it obviously pushed the PIN out.

Do the gates of heaven - or hell, for that matter - have a PIN or passcode? I imagine it turns up in the mail 7 to 10 business days before it will be required in one of those anonymous business envelopes.  They send them like that for security purposes, but everyone knows that envelopes like that have the access code for some kind of money or information in them.

I imagine that one might arrive at the gates of the afterlife in a somewhat flustered state, with a lot riding on your ability to punch the code in correctly.  How many attempts do you get? What happens if you're still wrong on the third attempt?  Or is this the modern definition of purgatory - spending eternity trying to remember the perfect combination of numbers to allow the door to be unlocked?  Imagine never being able to remember but being condemned to trying for ever! Two days of trying has been more than enough for me.

One day we'll just be embedded with a barcode or something.  I think I might get one.

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Identity protection is an uphill battle

Lately it seems I'm receiving requests to do things that other people advise very strongly not to do - hand over a copy of my passport and leave details of my credit card with people.

A couple of the projects I'm working on at the moment, are paying me as an employee rather than as a consultant.  It's been a while since I've been through the engagement process as an employee and the request for identity documents and proof of my work status is the thing that has changed.  I am being requested to provide a copy of my passport which will be held on file.  The reason being cited is so that they know I am allowed to work in Australia.  The most curious part of one of these requests is that the request was made by an organisation for whom I already work sporadically!  At one stage I was advised that every separate department would require a copy of my passport which I thought was bizarre.

I had a conversation with the HR department who told me that they need to be satisfied that I am eligible to work in Australia.  I guess that's fair enough, but what about all the warnings about identity fraud?  Oh - they hadn't thought about that.  I don't need to provide a copy of my passport to everyone in the organisation now.  I reminded them that I'm already working for the organisation and they gave me my favourite answer, "we're required by law".  Of course my follow up question was "which law?".  The response to that was "I'll put you through to my supervisor" which is always a sure sign that they don't know what law, it's just an easy phrase that ends most lines of questioning.

So I speak to the supervisor who tells me again that "it's the law".  When pressed, she tells me it's the "Immigration Law".  "But I'm not an immigrant - I was born here."  Silence.

"I was born in Australia.  I'm not an immigrant.  I'm not sure what your requirements are."

Silence again.

"I've had a look at the Department of Immigration website and employers certainly need to minimise the risk of employing someone illegally.  Given that I'm from here, surely you can ask me to sign a declaration."

"No.  We need to see your passport."

"What happens if I don't have one?"


"It's your choice."

And if I choose not to follow their instructions, then I will no longer be able to work on the project, despite being personally approached.  i called Fair Work Australia to see what they thought about the requests but was told they didn't know anything about it.  "We've never heard of this happening" they said.  Well I'm telling you now!

My passport has recently expired.  I'm in the process of renewing it and noticed the warnings about keeping identity papers safe.  Not very easy to do, it would seem.

The other request is to do with security deposits at hotels.  I understand the need for hotels to guard against dishonesty and to secure stuff that unscrupulous people could easily walk away with. There is a wide variety of practices.  Some hotels just want to make sure you have a valid credit card - taking one cent to prove it.  Other hotels are happy with a cash deposit or EFTPOS bond - both refundable immediately.  The thing I particularly rail against is the taking of a credit card imprint and holding anywhere from $100 to $200 as security bond on the card.  The funds are not able to be used, but there has been no actual charge to the card.  This process is done in an instant, but takes between 3 and 7 business days to reverse.

"We know that's a long time, but it's not our fault - it's the bank's."

Having been burnt a couple of years ago, I have learnt not to leave details of my credit card behind.  I did this once and had charges being put onto my credit card long after I left the hotel.  They were not my debts either!

This week in Perth I was booked into a hotel that wanted my credit card so they could hold $150 security bond.  We had the usual question on check-in.  It's another one of those "choices" - you don't have to do it, but if you don't they won't check you in.  When I checked out, I asked for my credit card details to be destroyed (they had a paper imprint).

I was advised that the details would be destroyed after they had contacted my bank.  They told me that this would happen that day but that it would then take 7 - 10 business days for the funds to be released.  Yes that time frame has extended from the original quote.  I said that I wasn't satisfied and that I wasn't prepared to leave my credit card details with them.  It was then revealed that the funds could be released immediately if the hotel faxed the bank.  To do this I would have to provide the bank's fax number.  My cab to the airport was waiting outside and I didn't have the fax number for my bank on me, so couldn't take up this option.

So in the digital age where money exists as code somewhere on the web, to get something done immediately requires a fax to be sent.  I don't buy it.

There are two things I'm going to add to my travel kit - the fax number of my bank and a load and go plastic card that I will put $200 onto specifically for the purposes of security deposits at hotels.  Or I'll leave them cash.  I've tried this before and for some reason some hotels won't take cash as a deposit.  I wonder why?

I phoned Consumer Affairs about this last year.  I received the shrug of the shoulders and was fobbed off to the Financial Services Ombudsman who deal with complaints against financial institutions.  My complaint is about hotels.

The other thing I don't understand is that when you need a refund for a purchase anywhere with a credit card, that refund is processed immediately upon presentation of the card used for the original purchase.  When I raise this point, I receive blank stares.

Perhaps I'm being paranoid, but I like my identity and have read enough about victims of identity fraud to know that I don't want to be one of them!

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Mining boom commuter lounge

The destinations on the departure board are unfamiliar - Karratha, Cloudbreak, Solomon Islands - and I am the odd person out, not dressed in navy blue work pants, a high-visibility vest (orange or yellow) and heavy work boots.  The women are dressed like this too, but they wear thongs on their feet.  It's 5am on Wednesday morning in the departures hall of the Perth domestic airport and it's peak hour.

The crowds of people waiting to check in at the kiosk make me very pleased that I've checked in online and that I have electronic bag tags.  I still have to queue at the bag drop, but I'm ready to join the next line in a matter of two minutes.  Modern travel is the experience of waiting in a succession of  lines.  No thrill or glamour there.

The queue to get through security is long, but it moves swiftly.  There are few delays as the people going through are experienced.  The routine of undoing belts, removing jewellery, taking coins and keys out of pockets doesn't happen here. The experienced travellers have come dressed so that they can just walk straight through.  I realise that this is why women are wearing thongs - it saves them having to take the their boots off at the security screening point.  The men wearing boots have already got the laces undone and slip them off like slippers when the time comes.

For once in my life, I am not randomly selected for random explosives screening.  They are too busy with everyone else.

Once in the waiting area of the airport, I notice some new retail shops have opened - surfwear and handbags.  I wonder how business is.  Yes, there are more people coming through the airport, but for most of them it looks like the same experience as catching a train to work - a regular routine that gets them to where they're going.  The lovely handbags look out of place in a world of heavy duty back packs.

Extra banks of chairs have also been installed and they are filled with people waiting for flights.

My journey to the airport was unconventional - a taxi screeched to a halt and the driver got out and said he would take me too to make sure I didn't miss my flight.  He already had a passenger on board, but there were 60 jobs waiting and not enough taxis to go around.  I appreciated his initiative and he explained that he manages cabs and sees things differently from the average driver.

My fellow commuter was flying back to Brisbane and works for a mining company.  He had previously worked in the mines themselves, but now is happy to have a desk job.  I learnt all about "hot shifts" (where the mine operates continuously, workers arrive and pick up where the last shift leaves off) and we talked about how the world could be better organised.

Our driver was intent on efficiency and proudly pointed out the areas of traffic congestion which he had neatly avoided for us.  As they dropped me at the kerb, both the driver and fellow passenger wished me a safe journey home.

You never know who you'll meet and what you'll learn.  That is the true joy of travelling even the shortest distance.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Let's talk about the weather

It's 10:44am.  There has been a mild change overnight, but it has been short lived.  It is currently 27 degrees and we're heading for 36 degrees.  I'm looking forward to taking a long flight this afternoon and spending a couple of nights in an air conditioned hotel room.  It will be a relief.

This run of hot weather has broken records apparently.  We keep hearing about the record number of days in a row where the temperature has been 30 degrees or above.  If it's still this hot on Wednesday, it will have been 10 days in a row, breaking a 1961 record.  

The temperature of my destination is currently low 20's and it's looking like a welcome break from 30 degrees plus.

While this hot weather has been on, I'm still amazed to hear people arguing about the difference between weather and climate change.  This is not normal Melbourne weather.  Yes, we get some very hot temperatures during summer, but generally it's dry and there is a cool change every 2 - 3 days.  This hasn't happened.  There hasn't been rain but the air is humid and the changes haven't happened.

Stories about drownings on unpatrolled beaches and public swimming pools closing because of cryptosporidium parasites enjoying a day out and causing a gastro outbreak in Melbourne.  Apparently when it's hot, Melbourne goes swimming and it's not a very safe thing to do.  In some of the stories there are veiled references to these issues being heightened because of climate change.

So far, I've been worshipping at the airflow of my bladeless Dyson fan.  It's been surprisingly effective in bed at night.  Wearing a damp sarong to bed after a cold shower is also my other tip for staying cool in bed - or should that be "on" bed?

Yesterday afternoon, the sky clouded over and a soft breeze started to blow.  I'm sure the temperature only dropped a degree or two, but it was bliss.  It made me feel hopeful of a more comfortable night's sleep.  My hope was well placed!

What's the weather like at your place?  How do you keep cool?  Or warm?

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Sunday Slideshow

 There's a bit of a mixed bag this week!  Urban and nature.

Waterwall - Collins Street
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Political statements at the local station
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Yarraville rooftops - a different view of the Sun.
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Yarraville rooftops - Westgate Bridge in the background.
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My favourite shot of the week...

GPO, Melbourne
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What's your favourite?

Friday, 8 March 2013

Happy anniversary - finding my place.

Being asked where I am from is a hard question to answer.  What does it mean anymore when everyone moves around so much?

I'm thinking about this today because it's around now that I hit my thirteenth anniversary of moving to Melbourne.  Thirteen years is the longest time I'm ever lived anywhere, so I'm thinking that I now know the answer to the question about where I am from.  Before that, it was twelve years in Brisbane.

When I moved to Melbourne, I immediately felt like I had come home.  I remember the feelings I had when I stood on the kerb in Lonsdale Street trying to hail a cab to the airport one Friday afternoon to head back to Brisbane when a bloke helped me get a cab and get my stuff into the cab.  It felt so civilised and something that I would never expect or experience in Brisbane.

Given that I'm still here, thirteen years later, and not looking like going anywhere, it was a good feeling to follow.  The six months I spent in Darwin in 2007 made Melbourne seem even better, both while I was away and when I came back home.

One thing that's changed though - it was never this consistently hot at this time of year.  One of the first things I bought after moving here was a serious, down quilt.  Can't imagine ever needing it again!

So happy anniversary to me and to being able to say where I am from.  Melbourne.  It's home.  I am home.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Scam calling

My land line just rang.  Usually the only people who use the line are members of my family.  I have a land line so they can call me and so I can connect to the internet.  I don't make outgoing calls on the land line - that's what I use my mobile for.  The number on the land line is also silent.  Despite this, I found it necessary to list the number on the "Do not call" register.

So when the phone rang this morning, I answered.  After I said "hello" there was the telltale pause that told me this was a call from an outbound call centre somewhere in the world.

A man's voice (Indian accent?) finally said:  "May I please speak to the business owner?"

I responded: "Who is calling please?"

"I'm calling to speak to the business owner."

"Who am I speaking to?"

"My name is Adam."

"Where are you calling from Adam?"

"I'm from e line (I think this is what he said) and I'm calling to talk to the business owner about your online presence."

"How did you get this number?  This number is silent and listed on the "Do not call" register."

"I'm very sorry."  Click.

I just now that this was a scam call.  Perhaps they were going to seek permission to access my computer.  Perhaps they were going to seek a payment for some imaginary service.

I find the tactics interesting.  Asking to speak to a non-specified but important person might work on some people, but to me it's like receiving junk mail addressed to "the Householder".  It's still advertising.

As I pressed Adam to reveal where he was calling from, I could hear the hesitation in his voice.

I wished he hadn't hung up straight away.  I'd love to have had the opportunity to press him for more details about the company and exactly how they got my number.  I've done this before and ended up speaking to several team leaders up the chain, taking up hours of their time for no productive benefit.  I figure that that's what they're trying to do with me.

After doing some research I've discovered that algorithms to generate phone numbers exist.  The resulting lists are then used by people like this to just randomly call numbers.  I'm pretty sure that if I had accepted the call the next thing I would have been asked is to confirm my details.  This would have given them the opportunity to collect the details.  Who knows what they would use them for - perhaps to make a follow up call that sounds more specific and has a better chance of them not being hung up on.

Having worked in an outbound call centre for a bank, I have learned a lot about the preparedness of people to give out their personal details after a very non-specific introduction.  My suggestion is not to give out your details without being certain about who you're calling.  If they say they are from a bank, ask which department and then get the number off their website and call back.  The bankers will say that verification of details is necessary to protect privacy before the discussion commences, but I think this is rubbish.  Privacy is better protected by the bank proving that they are real.  Everything has been turned on its head.

I've got enough on my hands dealing with the spam from banks that I don't bank with.  The other day I received email purporting to be from a bank I do bank with and it was pretty good.  The thing that gave it away was the poor grammar.  I called the bank and they gave me an email address to forward it to.  They seemed grateful to be alerted.

You can also report spam to ACMA (in Australia).  The address is
Don't click on any of the links in the email, just forward the whole thing to that address.  I wonder what happens then?  Imagine having that job - reading spam! I suppose at least they are paid to do that.  At this end, it's just a waste of time that takes up space on my email.

Have you had scam calls lately?  How do you handle them?  Have you ever been caught out? What happened? What do you do with spam?  I'd love to hear your stories.

Wednesday, 6 March 2013

Rough seas

It's been a rough night, followed by a rough day.

I woke up at 3am feeling very ill.  I tossed and turned, got up and down, couldn't sleep and then was sick.  Then I slept until my alarm went off at 5:45am.  I lay still for a while, not game to move in case I was hit by another wave of nausea.  I had the pinpricky sweating at the back of my neck.  Optimistically, I had a shower and decided to see how I felt.  I was like the walking dead.  I was supposed to facilitate day two of leadership program today.  I tried to imagine travelling on a packed, airless train.  This was followed by unpleasant scenes of public vomiting.  No one needs to be subjected to that.  Then I imagined that even if I made it in without incident, I would not be in good form for participants.  After a few early morning text messages a replacement was found.

Initially I felt guilty about this.  Then I gave myself a break.  There was nothing I could do, apart from give as much notice as possible.  Turning up under these circumstances would be a selfish act.  I might feel better about not having to call in sick, but I wouldn't be at my best and would probably pass the bug along.  No one would thank me for that!  So while I missed out on my fee for the day, but now I'm in a better position to work tomorrow and the next day.

I slept until 1pm.  I'm feeling like I've been hit by a train.  I did some reading and watched some TV and now I'm ready for bed again.  And it's hot.

Sometime this morning I did take a call from Yarra Trams.  They called to let me know that they're still considering and investigating the issue I've raised about the dangerous crush at the Federation Square/Flinders Street tram stop.  I'll keep you posted.

Hope I have a good sleep and wake up feeling brand spanking new tomorrow.

Monday, 4 March 2013

Monday morning commuter crush - what a way to start the week!

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the morning crush on one of the busy tram stops in Melbourne's city centre.  As well as writing about it here, I tweeted directly to Yarra Trams and the Lord Mayor of Melbourne.

Yarra Trams told me that it was very hard to manage and many strategies had been tried.  I asked what strategy was in place at the moment, as it wasn't evident.  The next tweet I received asked permission to pass my blog post to the safety team.  I have heard nothing further.  Does anyone know what the current strategy is?

I've had no response or acknowledgement from the Lord Mayor.  I suppose one won't be forthcoming now.

I also posted feedback on the web.  I received an auto generated acknowledgement on 14 February and nothing since.

This morning I was passing through the stop again at about 8:30am and this time took some photographs.  It was a bit tricky in the morning sun, but I hope some sense of the volume of people is conveyed.  I also took my life into my hands to stop and take a photo - the surge of people moving is not very forgiving.

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In this crush, once on the platform, there was no where to move at all.  To add to the discomfort, the overhead monitors showing tram arrival information had pieces of A4 paper stuck over them showing the message "under maintenance".  As trams arrived, Yarra Trams staff would issue the pointless instruction to commuters on the platform to "move back from the doors and allow people to get off the tram".  In isolation it's a sensible instruction, but in a sardine can, the sardines on the top layer can hardly move away from the can opener.

It really is ridiculous.  And dangerous.

I'm really interested in finding ideas to manage the volume of people in the short and long term.  I never complain without a suggestion of how the situation can be improved.  Any more ideas to add into the mix?

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Sunday slideshow

 Another week of interesting photos.  With the shift to autumn we've been having some spectacular weather accompanied by big, clear, blue skies.  Queensland skies.  I've noticed the light is particularly great for bringing out contrast in black and white shots.

Firstly is a shot of one of my favourite street corners in Melbourne - the corner of Elizabeth Street and Little Collins Street, looking towards Swanston Street.  The black and white really shows off the ornate old building and then behind it is the modern skyscraper, almost luminous.

Old and the new
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Way up the other end of town, on the corner of Collins Street and Spring Street I looked up.  I'm very happy with the composition of this shot.
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 On the same corner looking left.  I always find the palm trees to be out of place, but they add to all the vertical lines in this shot.

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While waiting for a train at Flinders Street station during the week, I noticed the shadows on the platform and took this shot.  Zombie apocalypse?

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I spent some time in Yarraville's pop up park this afternoon, hanging out with a friend.  It's such a lovely hub for the community in this beautiful weather.  My friend and I were playing Scrabble.  While I waited for her to lay her tiles, I took the opportunity to take some photos.

This is the other part of the Sun cinema's signage.  It could almost be a newspaper masthead.
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 And here's the usual sign, taken from the platform at the Yarraville train station.

Here's the view from my deckchair.

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Here's the Scrabble board from my perspective.  I went on to win the game!

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Another perspective on the park from behind the Scrabble board.

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The happy stripes of the deck chairs in the pop up park.

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Lastly, a self-portrait.  It's been a while since I've done one.  I quite like the mood of this one and the black and white filter makes it look like a news clipping.

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There's my week in photos. Which one/s do you like?

Saturday, 2 March 2013

Weekend recovery from "Flight"

I had forgotten the blissful promise of an unstructured weekend ahead.  Not because my weekends are usually structured, but because my working weeks are unconventional and unpredictable.  Lately, business is booming and I'm actually working five days a week.  I have no complaints about this, but when I went to bed last night exhausted and woke up this morning, two hours later than on any of the previous five days and without an alarm to prompt me, I was looking forward to the weekend.  Until a couple of weeks ago, I would have had choir rehearsal to attend, but I recently left the group I was with and so there wasn't even the call of my beloved music.

Reading in bed is one of my pleasures.  I do it every night before sleep, but rarely have the opportunity to do it in the morning.  This morning I did.  I could have stayed there all day, but the lure of blue skies and temperate weather (Melbourne in autumn!) was too strong to resist.

Not a bad spot to wait for a train.  Yarraville.
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I walked to the village.  Wandered around.  Cashed a money order I had received. Sat waiting for the train, not really caring if it never came.  Visited my favourite dress shop and found something to spend a loyalty voucher on.  Then I decided to go to lock myself away and go to the movies.

"Flight", the film that saw Denzel Washington receive an Oscar nomination for best actor, was on and so I went.

It's quite extraordinary.  The beginning of the film paints a picture of Captain Whip Whittaker on an ordinary working day.  We see him prepare for the flight and imagine what it must be like to sit next to a co-pilot that we're meeting for the first time.  There's rough weather.  Things start to go wrong.  The rest of the flight is one of the most evocative pieces of cinema that I've sat through.  I felt like I was on the plane and felt the fear and stress of knowing that the plane was going to crash.  Tears started to run down my cheeks.  I couldn't breathe.

What's interesting is that the plane crash isn't really the point of the film.  It's the story of a man's path to face what he is denying: that he is an alcoholic.  The courage it takes to shepherd a diving plane to the ground with minimal loss of life is nothing compared to the courage required to recognise your own self destruction and betrayal of all the people who love you.

It was worth sacrificing some sunshine for this amazing experience.  I highly recommend the film, but I hope they don't show it when I catch a flight in a couple of weeks.

As for the second day of this two day expanse, I have nothing to look forward to except the prospect of nothing in particular and anything I want.

What are you doing this weekend?