Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Great Holiday Blog

Work kicked me out of the office at 1pm on Wednesday 24th. I was not complaining, no siree. I was being picked up out the front by my wonderful husband, ready to embark immediately on our six-day trip. It's not often we have more than a day or two off work at the same time, and so we took full advantage of it by making the 9-hour drive home.

We began in the usual way of leaving Canberra - heading north in order to eventually go south. There is no easy drive out of Canberra to the south, so you go up to Yass and turn around, adding almost two hours to the trip (depending on how carefully you observe the speed limits).

We hoped our first coffee stop might be in Holbrook, the "submarine town". Yes, there is a submarine in town. There is some wonderful historical story behind this that I don't know; as far as I'm concerned it's just plain weird in a town that's 400km inland. However, it does make for an interesting drive through the town. Which is what we did, because no coffee shops were open that late on Christmas Eve.

Instead, we kept going. I actually can't recall where we stopped, if anywhere. We contemplated stopping in at the Ettamogah Pub, but decided against it and kept going. Eventually we ended up in Euroa, where my parents reside. There we spent the night, and the first half of the next day, pleasantly relaxing and inhaling cat hair. As much as I love Tiffy, I am somewhat allergic to her! My dad has taken to calling me (affectionately) "Fatty", in reference to my increasingly visible pregnancy - although the first time he said that, I thought he was referring to the cat.

We left after lunch on Christmas day and, skirting the city, headed on down to Rye where Aidan's parents live. It was getting a little chilly (the myth of the sweltering hot Australian Christmas has not really held true for several years now), but we still managed to barbeque our sausages out on the verandah before coming inside to eat. We also found time to drive to a nearby town where liveth a friend of Aidan's from school, who has a one-year-old daughter we'd never met. We finally met little Danielle! She's a cutey, although rather shy.

On Boxing Day was the traditional lunch at Craig and Kim's - Craig is Aidan's cousin, and from there the relationship of each family member to me gets more and more convuluted. I just call the lot of them my cousins, and leave it at that. Santa came for the kiddies (Aidan's dad, dressed up), and for some of the bigger kiddies too.

Now, a little explanation may be required for the next day to make sense. In Australia we have this wonderful sport called cricket. Cricket is a game which, in it's longest form, can be played over five days. Yes, five days for one game. It's called a "test match". Every year, on Boxing Day, the Boxing Day Test begins at the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground). Whilst I'm not a huge cricket fan, I do like to keep an eye on scores and suchlike for the Boxing Day Test each year. But I've never been before! So this year, Craig and Aidan and our good friend Andrew went along to Day Two of the Test. Kim packed us lunch (although I think she thought she was packing for nineteen people instead of four), and the four of us enjoyed an excellent day of cricket. We arrived just in time to see the last Australian wicket fall, and by the time we left the South Africans had lost seven wickets and made less than 200 runs. It was looking good for us! I don't know what happened the next day, but somehow we lost. Oh well.

The next three nights were spent in the city proper. We had a hotel room on Flinders Street, and we wandered and explored and reminisced and wished to move back home. We caught up with friends, we bought some maternity wear and baby clothes, and decided we'd be home within twelve months if possible.

On the way home on Tuesday, I couldn't help but think of our dear Canadian friends, and what they would make of some of the names of towns we passed during the drive. Us Aussies think nothing of Baddaginnie, Barnawartha, Tarcutta, and Jugiong. If you don't believe me, Google them! But the thought of Donn and Chris getting drunk and trying to pronounce them made the long trip go much quicker! Not to mention trying to recall each town's odd little fact or historical significance - they've all got a story, and if I knew them all well I'd love to tell them. I'm sure your Google searches will yield some results. I wish I'd had Google in the car, because nine hours is a long time and we were tired when we got here!

And finally, although the tale of the journey has concluded, there is other wonderful news. I had my second ultrasound today, the first time I've been able to see Bean actually looking person-shaped! Aidan was able to drive me there and come in and see everything, and we got quite emotional watching our little baby squirm around. It's a stubborn little thing, it wouldn't move for the ultrasound technician - it kept it's legs curled up so she couldn't measure them, and wouldn't roll over when she wanted it to. In that respect, it takes after both it's parents!! It's so good to know it's really in there and alive and well - although I've started to "show" a little of late, it's still hard to comprehend and believe that I'm actually growing a baby! I'm into the second trimester now, and all is still going well.

I will leave you with that, as I'm sure that's more reading than any person really wants to do on or around New Year. Go and get drunk, everybody! And have a great new year, my love to you all!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

"A study out of the University of New Hampshire shows at least 42 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 17 have accidentally come across some pornographic images while surfing the Internet over the past year.

Of those, a full 66 percent admit they didn't go looking for the graphic graphics and would have preferred not to see them at all."


That's less than 30% of children who claim to have seen pornographic images without wanting to. (And lets not forget, people lie in surveys and studies, especially if they think they'll get in trouble for saying they went looking for porn!) It is in response to this under-30% of children aged 10-17 that the Australian government will soon be trialling mandatory internet filtering (aka censorship) which will effect all net-enabled citizens. As of 2006, 66% of Australian dwellings had access to the internet. I'm sure it's more than that now. So more than 66% of Australian households will suffer significantly slower internet speeds, and will have safe, legal sites blocked to them by the currently existing inefficient filtering software.

Now, don't get me wrong. A child stumbling across porn accidentally is, I'm sure, a traumatic and disturbing experience for them. It is something to be avoided if possible. However, I do not see it as the job of the government to do that - it is the job of a parent or guardian to educate their children, and wherever possible to oversee and supervise their internet use. It's actually quite difficult to find porn accidentally online. The main way is by doing something else illegal, such as downloading cracks and key generators for programs. Frankly, if a kid is mature enough to be doing that, I would imagine they're also mature enough to either ignore, or cope with, the very softcore porn they're confronted with at the time.

In the interests of research, Aidan and I just typed "porn" into Google. With their "Moderate SafeSearch" on, the results were disappointing - there was nothing, I repeat, absolutely nothing, upsetting. Nothing even remotely pornographic, really. We got more provocative images from searching for "Britney Spears", and that's considered harmless pop culture. After turning their SafeSearch off, it was a different story - but no kid would do that unless they were deliberately going looking for porn (or things they thought they shouldn't be seeing).

So, for the sake of logic, realism, and saving Australian internet from slow speeds and inappropriate blocking, do me a favour and sign this petition:

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Eleven weeks and two days.

I've had some dizzy spells and light-headedness in the last few days, so I took a day off work and saw a doctor yesterday. She assured me that it's unlikely to be related to the pregnancy. In fact, she seems to think it's probably a recurrence of my good old labrynthitis. It's been a long time since I've had a decent relapse, so I suppose it's not unexpected that it would come now - when I've had a cold, and my body as a whole is under some stress.

I read somewhere that in the next three weeks the Bean will nearly double in size. It's the biggest, quickest growth spurt it will experience! Its fingers and toes are no longer webbed, and nearly all its organs are formed and starting to function. It has fingernails!!! (Juno, anybody?) It really is starting to turn into a person already. It would have started moving, wriggling around in there, a week or two ago, although of course it's too small for me to feel it yet. I am actually starting to show a little, my waistline is getting noticeably larger... well, I notice it, and Aidan does, but probably if you didn't know to look for it you might not realise. (Maybe I've just been eating too much, that is also possible!)

Also, Aidan's parents are visiting us at the moment. With my day off work yesterday, despite my head-spins, I was able to spend most of the day with them and Aidan, which was rather nice. They both appear to be thrilled that they're going to be grandparents.

So, what with one thing and another, I'm beginning to think that somebody has blessed/cursed me recently with an "interesting life"!!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

I am currently performing the duties of three different jobs at work. I tend to think of these jobs in terms of how many people would be required to do a day's work in a day, and thus my workload is broken up as follows:

EOR's, which requires about a person and a half, or sometimes two people. Which works out well, because Kerry does the bulk of that work, and I'm her extra half.

Examiner certifications, which is about half a person's work.

Processing payments, which varies between half and a full person.

So on any given day, I am required to be at least one and a half people, or up to two and a half people. You may well wonder how I have time to blog from work, as I am currently doing... the answer is, I don't actually have time. But I've worked damn hard and I deserve a few minutes to goof off, right? :)

Friday, December 05, 2008

I've found my newest hero. Ron Williams, of Toowoomba in Queensland, is violently opposing religion in state schools, and I think it's about time somebody did what he is doing. Anything related to religion should be either removed from non-religious schools, or made very clear to the children that it is myth, untrue, just like Santa and the Tooth Fairy. Ron Williams, should you ever come across this blog entry - I admire you, and I hope that your actions will mean that by the time my fetus is going to school, some worthwhile changes will have been made!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Ok, it's ranting time.

Everybody in Australia has, or has a friend who has, a horror story about the telco Telstra. This includes me. I have, no doubt, blogged at least once before about my problems with their broadband arm, Bigpond.

Telstra Bigpond is the biggest ISP in Australia. Whilst they do not have a monopoly, far from it in fact, they would certainly be the first considered ISP in most people's minds when first getting online. They are well-marketed, and their set-up process is easy for any beginner to follow.

Assuming you have no problems with your bundling or billing, and assuming you change nothing such as address or phone number mid-contract, their actual service is fine. I've never experienced a dropout, or significantly slowed speeds, while using the internet with Bigpond.

But the moment you come across a problem, the moment they make just one mistake, it escalates. Their customer service and complaints resolution process is unweildy and ineffective. Their right hand does not know what the left is doing. It is the problem of large companies that they have too many departments, none of whom communicate internaly, and all of which have long wait times to speak to an actual person.

This is what happened to me:

Late last year (ie, over 12 months ago), I received a phonecall from Bigpond offering me a great deal on my broadband and phone, bundled. I liked it, I accepted it. However, a couple of months later (although the service was active) I had not received a bill. They called me to advise that my account was in arrears, and advised me how much I had to pay immediately. The amount was far more than I had expected, given the deal I had agreed to over the phone, but I paid it anyway. I queried why I had not received any bills, and was told that my billing address was incorrect in the system.

Now, read this bit carefully, it's confusing, but very important: The billing address they had in the system was their own back-of-house operations area. My bill was actually supposed to be sent there, to be cancelled and re-issued to me with the correct charges and reflecting the bundling I was supposed to be getting.

Upon realising that this was not happening, and that I simply wasn't being billed, I pressed to get the bundling applied, so that internet and phone were charged as one amount on one bill. When speaking to them about this, it was determined that I had been being charged far too much, and was given a huge credit - actually I'm almost sure the credit was more than I had ever paid them in the first place, meaning that technically I still owed them money. However they apparently overlooked this, so I did too.

Despite this, bills still failed to arrive or be charged correctly. I finally went to the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman, who gave me the phone number for Telstra's own High Level Complaints. Upon calling this number, I finally reached somebody who appeared to have some control or authority to do what I was asking - which was what they had offered me in the first place. So, about six or seven months into my twelve month contract, things seemed to be fixed up for the first time.

BUT. Yes, there is a but. We went quite a while again without receiving bills. Now, as I'm sure you'll understand, being pregnant and having quite a bit going on right now, I really didn't think of calling them to ask for the bills. It didn't quite register how long it had been between bills. So, when our internet service was cut off yesterday, I had to call them to find out that it was for non-payment of three months worth of bills. Bills which, once again, had been sent to that back-of-house operations area, and not re-issued to me at all.

There wasn't much I could do about it; it had happened, and that was that. I paid the outstanding amount (which actually seemed about right) and called Bigpond back with the receipt number, just as they had asked, expecting to be re-connected almost immediately. However, upon calling them with the number, I was advised it may take up to 48 hours for the service to be re-activated. Possibly sooner, but probably not before Thursday morning. (This was Tuesday afternoon.)

And so, the last thing I asked Bigpond about yesterday was "When does my contract expire?"
I was told, to my very great relief, "You are no longer on a contract, ma'am."
"Does this mean I can cancel at any time with no cancellation fee?"
"Yes, ma'am", says Ryan on the phone.
"Fantastic," says I, "I'll be doing that in the next couple of days!"
He asked why. I told him if he had access to the notes on my file, and a few spare hours, he could certainly figure it out for himself.