A season gone in green.

Celtics Down Under logo

It’s been a full season since I started Celtics Down Under back in September 2012. While it hasn’t exactly been a raving success, I’m happy that it’s slowly blossomed into a community for Aussie Celtics.

As of today:

Not exactly the Larry O’Brien trophy of milestones, nonetheless encouraging. Encouraging, because I got to know many other Australian Celtic fans along the way, who in turn have come to know of many other fellow fans. All of us cheered, ranted, laughed and screamed together in the past months, watching our favourite team struggle its way into the postseason, and ultimately run out of gas. Not the best of endings, but it could have been worse. We went out with grit, and did not surrender.

It really feels great, knowing that none of this would have happened, had I not made the impulsive decision to register celticsdownunder.com and create something from nothing.

Thanks to everyone in the community, especially folks like Justin, Hayley, Tommy, big Kaine, Michael, Nate, Olly, Joel and so on. I’m looking forward to many more great seasons together. Bleed green folks.

#Ubuntu

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Kings of Convenience once more.

It sure has been a while since my first Kings of Convenience concert back at the Esplanade with ZL. Can you believe it has been six years? Sometimes, the passage of time is disturbingly quick. I’m glad I managed to catch them at Hamer Hall today though. It’s their first performance in Australia, and a one night only at that. My thanks to Bill and Jasmine for letting me bail out on the original dinner plan, otherwise I would’ve missed out on this show. I knew Josh was attending the show, but I hadn’t expected him to be sitting in the same row along with his family and Danny as well. Such a coincidence, and I’m glad to know of other people who like KoC too.

My only gripe: KoC only began performing at 930pm. I was seated at 8pm. The first warmup act was okay, but you could tell many people weren’t interested – I wasn’t the only fellow bent over a smart phone, furiously tapping. The second act was much better, a band named Real Estate. The only word I can use to describe their music is psychadelic. Check out the clip below and you’ll see why.

Still, worth a listen. I’m definitely going to spend some time listening to their albums.

Once Erlend and Eirik got onto the stage though, the crowd went wild. The entire performance lasted for about 100 minutes, but it was really good. Loved their hits, especially Cayman Islands and Homesick. Like the last concert I watched, Erlend grabbed a couple of girls up on stage and gyrated to I’d Rather Dance With You in his usual ungainly and carefree manner, such a pleasure to see him enjoying himself without inhibitions. If you’re curious, he dances exactly the same way he did in this music video below.

One noticeable change is the addition of the band, which added a level of depth to the originally simple flavour that is their trademark. Good to hear, but it feels slightly un-KoC-like.

If you’ve never heard of the Kings of Convenience before, I’d highly recommend that you try them today. The simplicity of two guitars and their voices in harmony – seriously, good music. Soothing, evocative and captivating, yet without the complications modern radio hits seem to demand.

The interesting thing about Australian utility rates.

I hadn’t realised this in the early years of my stay here, but have you ever wondered why utility rates vary so much across different geographical areas?

The answer is very simple, and comes down to one simple fact:

Infrastructure is built and owned by different private companies who decide on their own rates. These wholesale rates are then passed on to retail companies like AGL, who then mark it up and supply it to household consumers like us.

One very interesting point: the choice of retail supplier does not actually matter, since the actual electricity or gas supplier remains the same.

For example:

Citipower supplied the power in my old apartment building, which meant the quality of service gotten on the actual power remained the same regardless of provider. You do not pay more to get a stable service, neither does a cheaper retail provider get your electricity cut all the time.

The big difference for the consumer as you can see, comes down to the rate provided.

Another good feature that I like in a utility provider, is the early bird payment rebate. You pay your bill early, and you get a discount. It does make a difference in the monthly bills, and could take 10% off the total.

I’m with Lumo now, and their rates have been very competitive so far. The only snag was that three-fold meter read I had to sort out, but everything is rolling along now. Much thanks to Benson and Jason for their recommendation on Lumo last time, it’s definitely saved us a ton.

8 Australian online survey sites that really work

English: paid survey related photo
English: paid survey related photo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s interesting how many online scams there are on the internet. They claim to offer a decent income, in return for filling up surveys online. If it’s too good to be true, it often is.

Obvious tip: Never fall for a survey scheme that requires you to pay up before earning anything.

That being said, there are reputable online survey websites that allow you to have fun and fill up surveys, with various incentives offered.

Disclaimer: These sites sure as hell are not going to be enough to supplant your main income, think of it as pocket change more than a $5,000 per month income. They do count as work from home income though. So if you are looking for some easy online tasks that earn you a little bit of money, read on.

I’ll talk about a few sites that I have been using for a while now – all Australian, all legitimate, no scams.

Also, these recommendations do not earn me anything. No affiliate links, no referral points, nothing. I’m just sharing these because I feel like it.


1. MySurvey
Frequent surveys offered with email invitations, very convenient. That being said, they do miss an email from time to time, so it still is best to check in from time to time.

You get to “level up” your membership with the number of surveys done. This in turn, earns you bonus points when you get to a higher membership level.

The site has been steadily improving the way it works over the years, which is really good because I’m an advocate of constant innovation. The Facebook site integration has really improved engagement within the community, which feels fun because everyone is chiming in on daily topics.

The survey template is good as well, because there is a feedback section at the end on your thoughts about the survey content, length, with room for specific comments. IMO, things like these go a long way towards long-term improvement.

Reward system: It uses a point system that allows you to exchange points for rewards, one of them being my favourite: PayPal cash deposits.

Main perks:

  • Easy to accumulate points
  • Quick processing time on rewards redemption, by far the fastest of all the sites (averaging a week to two at most)

Not so great: Remember to login only within Australia. I had my account blocked when I tried to do the surveys overseas. Send an email and get them to unblock it if you have the same problem.


2. PureProfile
Email invitations to surveys, together with video advertisements and websites to view. The emails do not appear with every survey though, so remember to login every day to check for new stuff.

Reward system: There’s no point system, your account accumulates cash directly. Minimum redemption amount for withdrawal to bank account is $25.

Main perk: Great interface, easy to use. The Next button is one of my favourites

Not so great: The redemption takes a while to happen (processing averages three weeks to a month).


3. Realtime Research
Offers qualifying surveys, followed up with actual field research in person. This means you need to get down to certain specified locations on the date/time that they need you on, usually to evaluate certain products.

Still a fun thing to do, I remember participating in a test for a new flavour of cola once. Not a tough task with cash in hand, nice.

Reward system: Rewards are given for participants, sometimes cash, sometimes others (vouchers, gift cards).

Main perk: Fun, and immediate cash in hand upon completion.

Not so great: The survey timings might be a little tough for full-time workers.


4. AC Nielsen – Homescan Online
You get a scanner and a booklet to scan barcodes for your grocery shopping.

I like Homescan, it’s just a bit of a hassle when you are not used to the extra minutes spent on scanning each and every item from grocery shopping, most especially on fresh produce when prices are quickly forgotten. But the routine forms quickly, and getting a gift card to supplement grocery shopping once in a while is pretty good.

Reward system: Points are given for continued participation, with bonuses for your birthdays, and if you manage to win their monthly trivia quizzes. You are allowed to redeem points for rewards online, for items like gift cards, vouchers, electronics and others.

Main perk: No surveys required, slow and steady redemption for gift cards (for me).

Not so great:

  • You must have a telephone landline (PSTN) to participate; the scanner they use has a built-in modem that sends the scan results to their server at regular intervals. Guys who are on Naked ADSL internet connections or NBN, tough luck.
  • You have to keep the effort up, and scanning groceries is a hassle at times when you just want to dump all your stuff into the fridge and forget about them.

5. VibeVillage
This site is pretty new. Basically you sign up for campaigns with opportunities to trial new products, pretty cool IMO.

Reward system: Trial new products if you are eligible.

Main perk: Get to try new stuff. I got free bottles of Victoria Pale Lager from a past campaign – free beer is always good.

Not so great: The campaigns do not seem to be frequent, but sign up and have a look from time to time for new campaigns.


6. Australian Shoppers Community (VibeVillage)
A child site of VibeVillage, this site hosts regular surveys specifically on K-Mart.

Reward system: You get a chance at winning a $20 Coles-Myer Gift card with regular participation.

Main perk: Easy to complete surveys with a shot at getting some grocery allowance.

Not so great: Invite-only site, so you need to get someone to help.


7. Nine Rewards
Another survey site, available surveys are similar to MySurvey.

Reward system: Each completed survey earns you cash points which can be redeemed towards gift cards and vouchers. The best deal to me would be the Hoyts vouchers.

Main perk: Plenty of surveys every day.

Not so great: Minimum redemption amount is higher (ranges from $10 to $25), and harder to qualify for surveys. Takes a while to reach the reward.


8. VoiceIt!
This site has a forum-like structure that encourages member comments on topics like new advertisements and new trends.

Reward system: Earn $10 monthly on PayPal for consistent participation. (12 constructive posts per month to qualify.)

Main perk: Plenty of questions every week, easy income.

Not so great: No way to earn more than $10 per month.


That’s all I have for now; which sites have you used before? Feel free to share the good ones, I’m always looking out for more of these.

Recommendation: Australian Survey Sites has their own listing with reviews, feel free to check it out.

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So you want to be an ISP, part 2

This carries on from part 1, where I talked about getting a layer 3 handoff, versus a layer 2 handoff from the upstream provider.

Let’s look at the differences in infrastructure setup on both options.

Layer 3 option setup
If you are thinking of going with a layer 3 option, infrastructure setup will be fairly straightforward. The upstream provider will usually have some sort of web interface for you for account creation along with some troubleshooting/monitoring tools. The rest is likely to be accomplished via alternative channels like phone, email or hardcopy forms.

Layer 2 option setup

This is where things become really tricky, because some areas need to be looked at in detail.

Authentication
For example, authentication. You need some sort of authentication server setup so that your customers’ modems are able to send PPP authentication requests, prove that they have a valid account, and establish a connection.

Some frequently used terms for your reference:

  • Realm – for example, username@username.org where username.org is the realm. In a wholesale environment, a realm is required for your upstream provider to forward your customer’s authentication requests to your network.
  • Forwarding authentication – setting up the router, so that it knows where exactly to forward your authentication requests to. This requires some Cisco/Juniper/whateveritis know-how.
  • Authentication server – any form of RADIUS will do, in a pinch. Of course, you need certain attributes on the server:
    • Realm configuration – to allow requests with the right realm for authentication.
    • Username/password configuration – to allow the right username/password pair to be configured
    • IP address configuration – to either assign a static IP address, or to assign one from a dynamic pool, so one or the other. You will need either an IP address range from the upstream provider, or sign up for your own allocation from APNIC.
    • Optional attributes – for example, shaping the upload or download speed.
  • L2TP – this is the protocol used to establish a session from customer to your network.
  • LAC – L2TP Access Concentrator. This is the network router from your upstream provider, where they forward authentication requests to you.
  • LNS – L2TP Network Server. This is your router, the one that receives and establishes L2TP sessions.

I’ll break the post up again at this point, part 3 will be a closer look at a layer 2 option, authentication setup with regards to Cisco equipment – sorry, can’t do anything else as I’m only familiar with that.

Let me know what else you would like to see in this series, and I’ll be happy to elaborate.

The tale of Lumo and the meter read, part II

So.

I hadn’t realised a part two was needed, but here it is. I received a bill from Lumo Energy with three very interesting items, all labelled “Re-energisation NMI:XXX”, priced at $18.34 each. You don’t usually get three items looking exactly the same, so I thought it was a billing error initially and talked to Lumo via live chat. And incidentally, Lumo live chat has this annoying tendency of asking if you have called them via the 1300 customer hotline. I guess it hasn’t occurred to them that people use live chat to avoid phone calls.

And during the live chat, it was explained to me that yes, the three charges were correct. I had three requests for meter reading, which equated to three charges. Absolute bollocks to me though, seeing as I did whatever I could to ensure site access (which incidentally, included three days of leave) and I still get billed nonetheless?

Sorry matey, you’re barking up the wrong tree. I requested a callback on this, and rang the 1300 number right off. After a few tries, I managed to get hold of someone basically told me the charges could not be waived, as it was being passed on from Citipower. Well I’m a Lumo Energy customer and not a Citipower customer, so don’t expect me to go raising a complaint against Citipower with the ombudsman, it’s your arse that’s going to be on fire.

And here comes the best bit. I requested to speak to the bloke’s supervisor, who told me that “it was the responsibility of the customer to allow access to the meter”. Ah, so I was expected to stand at the door of my apartment building for the entire day and not go anywhere! Sorry for providing shit service to the contractors folks.

Enlightening.

I reiterated my point about “No waiver = complaint to the ombudsman”. He promised to get someone of higher authority to get a call back to me, so we’ll see how this goes next week. In the meantime, have a good weekend folks and let me hope that this episode ends with reason and not idiocy.

Three keys for jobseekers in Australia

I was talking with Rex on Facebook about his big decisions in the coming year, and one of the questions that came up was about the job market in Australia being positive for IT sales. Seeing as I do not work in that specific field and not having peers, it was a little difficult to give an upfront answer, but I pointed out that jobseeking over here consists of three big factors:

Local work experience
You would be surprised at how valued this is. Overseas experience does not count for much; V had to start her career from scratch as a junior auditor in our first year here, despite having audit experience at a senior position in the past.

Get a foot in the door, and start working. The start is always rough, but you have to make an effort to work your way in. Show everyone you are willing to start afresh and work hard to fit into the local culture.

Professional qualifications
University qualifications are all well and good, but industry certifications are what employers look out for. You could be holding a master’s degree, which honestly does not count for much if a competitor holds industry certification.

Get a degree, but don’t overdo it unless we’re talking about an MBA here. Work on professional certifications like Cisco or Juniper certs, ITIL, PRINCE, PMI or CA, CFA, CPA, whatever it is your industry values.

Social network
It’s not about what you know, it’s about who you know. Runs against the grain of the first two points, but the closed job market is accessible only from internal contacts, and that means knowing people.

So never discount the power of friends, especially people who know how good you are in your job and are on the lookout for talent.

All that being said, persistence, effort and a goodly dose of luck is still needed so be sure to work hard, stay focused and positive. Good luck to Rex on his journey towards fatherhood and the dramatic life change in the coming months ahead.