Posts Tagged‘home’

Day 36: A Journey’s End.

Waking up in an airport is a strange feeling. Those compulsions I usually have when catching flights were strangely absent since we were already checked in, been through security enough times and, if we were lucky, our terminal would be a 5 minute walk from where we were. Still I didn’t leave much to chance, giving us a full hour before the flight was set to board. Talking to the receptionist as we were checking out we were informed that we just needed to take a short train ride to get to our gate, the time we had more than sufficient to get there. Satisfied we made our way down and, surprisingly, didn’t need to ask anyone else about how to get where we needed to go.

Maybe it was just the random wing of the airport we arrived in yesterday. Who knows.

IMG_20160728_090402

I grabbed a coffee and my wife a coconut water, hoping that something light could quell the rumblings in her stomach. We sat down in the gate area, figuring we’d while away the remaining hour before boarding by reading or otherwise entertaining ourselves. To our surprise they started boarding people not too long later although as it turns out it was something of a two stage boarding process. First we’d have to go downstairs to go through another security check, one where they’d rifle through our carry on bags. They, of course, found the duty free in mine and informed me that they needed to put it in a box and would also need my boarding pass. Confused but not wanting to make a scene I handed them both over and kept a keen eye on the guy who had made off with them. As it turns out this is just the process for any duty free that contains alcohol coming out of Dubai and instead of it being handed to you when you exit the craft it comes out with your checked luggage. I guess all airports have their foibles.

We boarded on the plane, the glorious Qantas A380-800, which I had hoped would provide a better flight experience than some of the other jets we’d been on so far. Whilst the set pitches were a little better the uber-reclining chairs did make it a little awkward to get in and out. My wife did secure her favourite window seat position however, this being a 3 abreast seating configuration, meant I had to pester the poor woman beside me every time my wife wanted to get up. Overall it wasn’t too bad but it has made me wonder if paying the additional for premium economy might’ve been worth it for this trip.

Our flight was delayed due to a computer issue on the flight controller’s end which led to a backlog of flights that needed to be cleared before we could go. After we got going I looked at our tickets back to Canberra and realised that there was likely no way in hell we’d make the connection. I’ve been in this position before however and Qantas has always done right by me. I told my wife much the same and we both agreed to not worry about it until we landed.

Arriving in Australia as a citizen is by far my favourite airport experience, the automated systems streamlining you through all the way to your baggage. The longest part about the whole endeavour is the walk to get to the passport control gate. It did take some time for our luggage to arrive however, something that was exacerbated by the fact that we waited to see if our duty free would come through. As it turns out the duty free from Dubai does not come out with your checked luggage, it gets routed through to oversized luggage. After finding this out from a fellow bleary eyed traveller I wandered over to the oversized luggage section only to find various bits of luggage strewn around randomly, including a few duty free boxes. After figuring out that no one was actually claiming anything I went up to the two remaining boxes and searched for mine. Then I simply walked away with them.

Great system guys, really.

Walking over to the Qantas domestic transfer desk we were greeted with a massive line, one that was moving relatively quickly however. Walking up to the check-in counter we mentioned our flight being delayed and not 2 minutes later were we booked on the next flight down and our bags checked, no questions asked. After the experience I’ve had on some other airlines in similar situations it’s things like this that remind me way I sometimes pay a premium to fly with Qantas as they really do take a whole bunch of worry out of the equation.

The flight back was short and uneventful, the lovely modern Boeing 717 getting us there smoothly and swiftly. Indeed it’s the first one of these such flights where I haven’t felt dreadfully ill right at the end; the usual DASH-8 rattling my bones and my head until they both feel like jelly. My wife said she might try to snooze on the cab ride home although then remembered the usual state of Canberra cabs. So instead we got ourselves an Uber and found the awesome express pick up location that’s in the Canberra airport car park. We were picked up by a lovely older German fellow who had some lively banjo music playing.

Shortly we found ourselves back home and noted all the work my mum had been doing to the place while we were away. New flowers were planted in some of our pots, the roses trimmed, the interior of the house cleaned. the entry way decorated with a welcome home banner and balloons and, to our delight, the heater running. We started the process of unpacking and re-entering the lives we left behind 5 weeks ago, the pile of mail (both physical and electronic) requiring attention. The rest of the day blurs out from there, spent mostly in a semi-surreal daze.

I’m still processing a lot of thoughts from that day, and the ones that have followed it, so I’ll leave it there for now. Look for a wrap post in the coming days where I’ll sum everything up and talk about what I think this trip means now that it’s done.

Windows 10 to Have Mandatory Updates for Home Users.

Left to their own devices many home PC users will defer installing updates for as long as humanly possible, most even turning off the auto-updating system completely in order to get rid of those annoying pop ups. Of course this means that exploits, which are routinely patched within days of them being discovered, are often not installed. This leaves many unnecessarily vulnerable to security breaches, something which could be avoided if they just installed the updates once in a while. With Windows 10 it now seems that most users won’t have a choice, they’ll be getting all Microsoft updates regardless of whether they want them or not.

7484.Restart-warning_01455B5B

Currently you have a multitude of options to select from when you subscribe to Windows updates. The default setting is to let Windows decide when to download, install and reboot your computer as necessary. The second does all the same except it will let you choose when you want to reboot, useful if you don’t leave your computer on constantly or don’t like it rebooting at random. The third option is essentially just a notification option that will tell you when updates are available but it’ll be up to you to choose which ones to download install. The last is, of course, to completely disable the service something which not many IT professionals would recommend you do.

Windows 10 narrows this down to just the first two options for Home version users, removing the option for them to not install updates if they don’t want to. This is not just limited to a specific set of updates (like say security) either as feature updates as well as things as drivers could potentially find their way into this mandatory system. Users of the Pro version of Windows 10 will have the option to defer feature updates for up to 8 months (called Current Branch for Business) however past that point they’ll be cut off from security updates, something which I’m sure none of them want. The only version of Windows 10 that will have long term deferral for feature updates will be the Enterprise version which can elect to only receive security updates between major Windows updates.

Predictably this has caught the ire of many IT professionals and consumers alike, mostly due to the inclusion of feature updates in the mandatory update scheme. Few would argue that mandatory security updates are a bad thing, indeed upon first hearing about this that’s what I thought it would be, however lumping in Windows feature updates alongside it makes a much less palatable affair. Keen observers have pointed out that this is likely due to Microsoft attempting to mold Windows into an as-a-service offering alongside their current offerings like Office 365. For products like that continuous (and mandatory) updates aren’t so much of a problem since they’re vetted against a single platform however for home users it’s a little bit more problematic, given the numerous variables at play.

Given that Windows 10 is slated to go out to the general public in just over a week it’s unlikely that Microsoft will be drastically changing this position anytime soon. For some this might be another reason for them to avoid upgrading to the next version of Windows although I’m sure the lure of a free version will be hard to ignore. For businesses though it’s somewhat less of an issue as they still have the freedom to update how they please. Microsoft has shown however that they’re intent on listening to their consumer base and should there be enough outrage about this then there’s every chance that they’ll change their position. This won’t be stopping me from upgrading, of course, but I’m one of those people who has access to any version I may want.

Not everyone is in as fortunate position as I am.

Tesla’s Powerwall: Home Power Revolutionized.

The problem that most renewables face is that they don’t generate power constantly, requiring some kind of energy storage medium to provide power when its not generating. Batteries are the first thing that comes to everyone’s mind when looking for such a device however the ones used for most home power applications aren’t anymore advanced than your typical car battery. Other methods of storing power, like pumped hydro or compressed air, are woefully inefficient shedding much of the generated power away in waste heat or in the  process of converting it back to electricity when its needed. Many have tried to revolutionize this industry but few have made meaningful progress, that was until Tesla announced the Powerwall.

Tesla Powerwall

The Powerwall is an interesting device, essentially a 7KW (or 10KW, depending on your application) battery that mounts to your wall that can provide power to your house. Unlike traditional systems which were required to be constructed outside, due to the batteries producing hydrogen gas, the Powerwall can be mounted anywhere on your house. In a grid-connected scenario the Powerwall can store power during off-peak times and then release it during peak usage thereby reducing the cost of your energy consumption. The ideal scenario for it however is to be connected to a solar array on the roof, storing that energy for use later. All of this comes at the incredibly low price point of $3,000 for the 7KW model with the larger variant a mere $500 more. Suffice to say this product has the potential for some really revolutionary applications, not least of which is reducing our reliance on fossil fuel generated power.

The solar incentives that many countries have brought in over the last few years has seen an explosion in the number of houses with domestic solar arrays. This, in turn, has brought down the cost of getting solar installed to ridiculously low levels, even less than $1/watt installed in some cases. However with the end of the feed-in tariffs these panels are usually not economical with the feed-in rates usually below that of the retail rate. Using a Tesla Powerwall however would mean that this energy, which would otherwise be sold at a comparative loss, could be used when its needed. This would reduce the load on the grid whilst also improve the ROI of the panels and the Powerwall system, a win-win in anyone’s books.

It would be one thing if Tesla was just making another product however it seems that Elon Musk has a vision that extends far beyond just ripping the battery out of its cars and selling them as grid connected devices. The keynote speech he gave a few days ago is evidence of that and is worth the watch if you have the time:

In its current incarnation the Tesla Powerwall is a great device, one that will make energy storage feasible to a much wider consumer base. However I can’t help but feel that this is just Tesla’s beachhead into a much larger vision and that future revisions of the Powerwall product will likely bring even larger capacities for similar or lower prices. Indeed this is all coming to us before Tesla has completed their Gigafactory-1 which is predicted to reduce the cost of the batteries by some 30% with further iterations driving it down even more. Suffice to say I’m excited about this as it makes a fully renewable future not only inevitable, but tantalizingly close to reality.

A Crisis of Misinformation: Generation Y’s Property Conundrum.

I’ve gone on record in the past about how the median house price is unaffordable for the median income earner in Australia. In the same breath I also explained how rare that this kind of situation was due to the number of assumptions made when you just equate median income with median house price. Still it seems to be a sticking point for many people of my generation that housing prices are just too damn high for them to be able to afford something, even if their incomes are above the median. While I’ll admit that it is harder in some areas rather than others (like Canberra for instance, which I explain below) the generalization the property is straight up unaffordable for our generation just simply doesn’t hold water and the reasons are far more likely to be ones of desire than affordability.

The Canberra Times ran an article yesterday that showed Canberra’s cheapest house prices were $100,000 more than the cheapest places in other capital cities. The cheapest suburb Charnwood (where I just so happen to live) had a median price of $382,000. In comparison to the other 2 suburbs listed in the article this seems kind of ludicrous but there are some pretty good reasons for this discrepancy. Firstly the suburbs that Canberra was compared to aren’t exactly identical with Charnwood being only 20 minutes to the CBD of Canberra and the other suburbs being around double or triple that distance. In that respect it’s more apt to compare property in Queanbeyan and the surrounding region which has several areas with a substantially lower median. There’s also the fact that Canberra is disproportionately affluent thanks to the high concentration of public service jobs and low population which skews the median further. That doesn’t change the fact that property in Canberra is more expensive than it would be elsewhere but it does show that straight up comparisons like the one in the Canberra Times aren’t exactly apples to apples.

Whilst the zeitgeist around the property market for my generation might be “it’s too expensive” a recent survey showed that a large majority of my generation are considering buying property within two years. Unfortunately only 30% think of it as a good investment (although what investment vehicles they consider good doesn’t seem to be included) which makes me then wonder why so many are intending to buy. The biggest challenge according to the survey is saving the required deposit for the house, not financing the loan as you’d expect. The article then references the high median price in Sydney as a source of this barrier which, in my mind, isn’t a barrier at all.

The first folly here is to assume that a first time home buyer should be buying at the median. For starters a good 50% of the housing market will be below that price range, especially if you consider some of those cheap suburbs that the Canberra Times article alluded to. This reduces the “required” (more on that in a sec) deposit from $110,000 to something more like $60,000~75,000 still an non-insignificant amount but a lot less than what the article insinuates. There’s also the assumption here that you need to get a 20% before considering buying which I can tell you is misnomer.

For starters the 20% threshold is usually just to avoid paying Lender’s Mortgage Insurance (LMI). Now this isn’t insurance for you, it’s for the bank in case you default on the loan. What a lot of people seem to think is that this is either some astronomical one off cost or a recurring charge that’s tacked onto the loan. For both of the home loans we currently have we had little more than a 5% deposit and the LMI charge was a couple thousand dollars, much less than the amount of cash required to get the 20% deposit. Of course your choice of loans might shrink a little as well but we never struggled in finding a suitable loan at a decent rate, even when we had such a small deposit. Put this all together and cracking into the property market doesn’t seem as bad for my Generation Y cohorts but you wouldn’t read that in the papers.

Realistically it all comes down to a lack of information and understanding which is unfortunately fuelled by articles like the ones I’ve linked to. Whilst I know that many won’t do the research and then continue to lament their position I’m hoping that at least a few will see articles like mine and start doing some investigation for themselves. Knowledge, as they say, is power and the Australian property market is no exception to this.

Buying Property: A Geek’s Perspective.

Buying a house is an experience of many varied emotions, from excitement to confusion to being overwhelmed and finally the ultimate reward of having a place to call your own. I’ve been through the whole process twice now and suffice to say I’ve had my share of trials and tribulations along the way. Today I’m going to walk you through a rough outline of the process (note that this will be Australian centric, sorry overseas readers!) so that those aspiring property owners looking for a bit more information on the process will hopefully come out feeling a bit more confident when they start looking for a place to call home.

First of all before you start looking at any houses you’re going to have to know what kind of budget you have to work with. At this early stage I’d highly recommend seeing a mortgage broker as they can look at your financial situation and find a loan that’s appropriate for you. They can also teach you how to build business credit, which can be useful to you in the long term should you be short on capital. I have personally used Aussie Home Loans as my brokering agent every time I’ve looked for a property and have never been recommended the same loan twice (nor any of Aussie Home Loans products either). There are of course dozens of firms around and none of them charge any fees so I’d wholeheartedly encourage you to talk to a few of them if you’re not completely happy with any one of them. At this point you can also get pre-approval for a loan, meaning the bank is ready to finance you and will make the whole buying process a lot faster than if you’d found a house then had to get finance.

With your finance sorted you can now go about looking for a place to call your own. In my experience this is a whole lot of fun for the first couple weeks as you get to see many great houses (and some not-so-great) but it can be exhausting if the process drags out over a long period of time. Whilst I said before you shouldn’t bother looking before you’ve got finance it can help to do a little market research in the months prior to fully committing to getting a house. This will let you know how the market is doing and which properties have been on sale for a while. A rule of thumb is that the longer a property has been on the market the more likely that the seller will be flexible regarding the price (although it could also mean the property is overpriced, in need of dire repairs or has something else preventing it from selling).

Once you’ve found a place that’s within your budget the next step will be to make an offer¹. This process is wholly dependant on the agent selling the property and can be as informal as a telephone call to the agency or could involve multiple forms in order to register your intent to buy the property. It’s at this point you can negotiate the price for the house if you so desire and it’s quite possible that the house will go for below or above the advertised price. Should someone else make another offer you will, most of the time, be notified by the agent should the offer be higher than yours. Strictly speaking agents are not meant to tell you how much other people are offering for the property but inevitably most do. Depending on the instructions given to the agent by the seller there might be predetermined sell point or they may leave the property open for offers until they’re satisfied with the price. Should you be lucky enough to place the accepted offer you’ll be contacted by the agent and will usually have to supply a $1000 deposit to confirm your intentions to buy the home (this is counted towards the asking price).

According to Think Conveyancing’s website, at this point its time to bring in the lawyers or a conveyancer, as part of the formal offer acceptance you will have to nominate one such agency to deal with the legal paperwork required by the sale. Just like if you were seeking the aid of an injury attorney in Orlando for example, you have to do your research. In my experience you will be better served by an actual lawyer rather than a conveyancer as they will be able to provide qualified legal advice in the event something should go wrong. They can also help with explaining some of the legalese and add provisions and protections into the sale contract should they be required.  Once you’ve nominated the agency the agent will send them the required paperwork and you’ll be required to sign a few things in order to get the process going. Soon after (usually before 10 business days) your and the selling party’s lawyers will then exchange contracts, allowing both sides to inspect them prior to agreeing to continue with the sale. Again at this point you’ll be required to sign the paperwork to say that you’re happy with the terms of the sale. At this point you have a financial interest in the property so it’s recommended to take out insurance on it at this point.

Once the paperwork is completed the next major event will be the settlement, the formalisation of the sale contract that both parties have agreed to. Before this happens however there are usually a few things that need to be sorted out. Probably the largest of tasks is the payment of stamp duty which has to be done either directly to the Revenue Office or through your lawyer’s trust account. There are also things like arranging financing for paying out rates or water bills (usually paid to your lawyers who hold it in trust for use at settlement) and having one last final inspection of the property to make sure you’re still happy with it. The bank will also send out a representative at this point to do an evaluation on the property to make sure the property isn’t worth substantially less than the loan they’re giving you. Once they have been completed (can be anywhere from 2 weeks to months, in my experience) then both party’s legal representatives convene to complete the sale. Shortly after this you should be contacted by the agent who will hand over the keys and you’re officially a home owner.

This scenario does not mention anything that might go wrong during this entire process. Should all things go well the time from accepted offer to moving in is usually around 4 weeks however this can easily balloon out should any part of the process be delayed. The most common problems are finance related, usually either delays in sending out appraisers or not releasing the funds for settlement. There can also be issues at settlement like unapproved structures or disclosure of required sale information (like if it’s a flood plain, for example). However if you have a good lawyer behind you most of these problems will be made clear to you and options presented for remediation.

So in a nutshell that’s what the process is for buying a house in Australia. I’m sure there are details I’ve missed or haven’t given enough attention to but if you were wondering what’s actually involved in securing property than this should give you a good insight into what’s required. It can seem daunting at first but realistically it’s really just a whole lot of talking, walking and sending money to people in the right places. If you have any questions about a particular part of the process feel free to ask in the comments below and I’ll do my best to ask.

¹I’m deliberately writing this from the perspective of buying a house through a negotiated price rather than at an auction. Buying a house at auction is an inherently more risky scenario due to emotional involvement and the removal of many buyer protections. The process before and after the auction is identical however.

The advice provided here within is general advice and should not be considered professional financial advice. It does not take into consideration your personal circumstances and can not be used in any financial decision process. No party should take action or refrain from action based solely on the content of this post or any other contained here on The Refined Geek. Please seek professional financial advice before proceeding with any investment.

Home is Where the Heart is.

A dull light crossed my bed, illuminating the room with a subtle even glow. It wasn’t the blazing column of heat that usually woke me whilst I had been staying down in Florida telling me that something was definitely different about the weather. Looking outside I saw a thick cloud coverage going from horizon to horizon, muting the sun and causing the temperature to drop to more reasonable levels. Almost instinctively I fired up my computer to see what the status was on the Discovery launch: scrubbed until tomorrow just as everyone had predicted. I set about the task of readying myself for the flight out of here since my flight was only 4 hours away and I had a few things that needed to be done.

After filling up the Mustang (which drinks fuel in comparison to the Corvette, strange I know) I returned it to whence it came. It was a decent car but it felt pretty cheap, with all the components being plastic and resembling those of parent’s 1992 Commodore. Still it was a very comfortable and quiet ride so I can’t fault it as a car to get around in, apart from the startling amount of fuel it used to do just about anything. After dropping it off I went to check my bag in so I could go about hunting down some breakfast, thinking that being here so early I would’ve beaten the rush.

That didn’t appear to be so since the line for checkin took 15 minutes clear and the security check point line took well over an hour to get through. Still it was a pretty easy going experience even though the libertarian in me was screaming again about civil liberties and security theatre but my rather blasé mood managed to quell him without too much trouble. Once I was through I settled in with a light breakfast and my novel, blasting through a couple chapters before it was time to board. The flight itself was quite smooth once we were above the cloud tops. I can see why NASA would be concerned about them since they were quite thick and the shuttle could have easily triggered a lightening strike or worse, stripped the heat tiles off the orbiter.

Once I had disembarked from the plane I was struck by how new everything in the Montreal airport looked. It had obviously just been renovated with modern accents adorning every corner and multicoloured LED strips lining the walkway to immigration. The airport itself was a model of efficiency getting nearly half the plane cleared before the baggage even started to arrive on the carousel. After picking up my bags and just simply walking out (I was expecting an Australian-esque customs shake down) I was then greeted with two smiling faces: my wife Rebecca and her best friend ever Laura. I was greeted with a bear huge of epic proportions and I returned in kind, revelling in the human contact I had been missing for so long. I was looking forward to this moment for quite a while and the relief I felt was unimaginable.

Tonight we were to dine at the FireGrill, a Canadian steakhouse chain that apparently put on quite a spread. After navigating our way through the tail end of the rush hour traffic we went and picked up Laura’s boyfriend Marc before starting the walk there. It wouldn’t have been so bad walking there but it was steadily raining the whole time there, drenching those of us who hadn’t come prepared. It made for a few entertaining moments at the start of the night when I was mopping up my hair to avoid dripping water all over the menu, especially when I thought I got it all only to have another drop embarrassingly make its presence known with a loud splat. The food there was delectable and the wine I had selected (a French pinot noir) was a good compliment to the steak I was having. It was particularly pricy though but it was definitely worth it, I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to anyone else.

I have been told, in no uncertain terms, that tomorrow I am having a bro date with Marc and possibly one of his work colleagues. Usually this would weird me out since I hate forced social situations but I’ve already taken a shine to Marc and since we share a profession I figure that worst comes to worst we can bitch our respective work places without boring each other to death. I know I’ve had more than a few shared rolleyes when I get my real geek hat on and start talking about the various implications of technology X or why someone is an idiot for not using Powershell.

Thinking back over the day I was still somber from the emotional thunderstorm I put myself through yesterday right up until that first moment when I spotted my wife waving me eagerly over to her. It was a great comfort and the company that she’s been keeping over here in Canada made me feel like this was a home that I had somehow managed to leave behind. Suddenly I realised that I had been missing that key ingredient that really makes travel worthwhile: that human connection. Visiting far away places is all well and good but without that connection to someone else, whether it be a travel partner or those you meet whilst over there, the experiences feel quite insular. I have less than a week here but I can already feel the experiences that I’ll take away from here will be that much richer thanks to the people I’ll be sharing them with.

Home Sweet Home.

Tomorrow I’ll be heading home with my blushing bride Rebecca from our lovely honeymoon retreat. I’ll be sure to do a massive update with a gallery full of pictures and many stories that I will bring back with me from Turtle Island. If the updates don’t start again on Monday morning I hope I don’t have to tell you what to do (and no, nuking me from orbit just to be sure is not the right answer ;)).

So sit back and relax, enjoy the weekend and hopefully I’ll return in a blaze of glory to entertain you all for real instead of automated posts written at 11pm the night before 😛