The Op Shop

As I’ve said, we’re doing some cleaning out, as it looks as though the house is going to need some substantial work.   So some things have been going to one of the local op shops.  We’ve collected quite a few jigsaw puzzles over the year.   I think this is common;  it’s fun to do a new puzzle, but then you put it away, intending “one day” to come back to it – but you never do!

Anyway, as part of the cleanup, S took a number of jigsaw puzzles up to the op shop.  They were appreciative, but let it drop that one of the volunteers was going to count the pieces to see how many was missing!    Some of these puzzles had 1000 pieces (and, so far as we’re aware, there weren’t pieces missing from any of them) – so some counting!

I’m sure the op shop customers will appreciate knowing that the puzzles are complete, and perhaps the shop will sell them for a dollar or two more than might be the case otherwise.  However, I do wonder if this is the most productive use of a volunteer’s time!

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Heathrow Express

The Heathrow express?  We used it on our recent trip to London because although it’s expensive if you buy tickets “on the spot”,  the value is OK if you buy advance tickets on-line (as we did) and your accommodation is within a reasonable taxi ride from Paddington.  However, as I have mentioned, it didn’t work very well for us as we were leaving London.

I wondered if I’d be pushing my luck claiming compensation,  after getting compensation from Virgin Trains which turned up.

The Heathrow Express claim must be submitted on-line, but in its favour is that no attachments are needed – you merely quote the ticket number from the print out.    In due course, I received an email stating my claim had been rejected because our train was “only” 12 minutes late.  Of course, this isn’t what happened.  I replied asking that the matter be reconsidered, and setting out details about what occurred.   And in due course, another email arrived, stating that our fares would be refunded in full!

But there was a catch!   I had to ring a British phone number to tell them the account into which the refund should be paid.   Oh well, I wondered about trying to avoid this, but in the end, since I’ve got a substantial rolled over credit on my mobile, I decided I’d use some of it up.  To my pleasant surprise, there was no queue, and as soon as I gave the “reference number”, the operator knew I had a credit waiting to be collected.  I gave details of my card and it was all “done” very quickly.

Just for the record, of course exchange rates have moved since I originally paid for the fares, so the credit I received was  about $1.30 less than the cost I’d initially paid.  On top of this was the expense of the phone call.   But I’m not really complaining (although life would have been better if the train had been on time).

 

Culling those seats

Well, Metro trains don’t give up, do they?    They yielded to pressure a few years back and reinstated some of the seats that they’d removed from some of the platforms at Flinders Street station – but now, down the track a bit,  things have settled down a bit, and they’ve “updated” the seating – and the result is that there’s only half the seating that there was until a couple of weeks ago (which, in turn, is half of what originally existed)!

Marks clearly indicate the latest round of seat culling

Free Range Eggs

The new labelling rules for “free range” eggs are imminent, and Choice mentioned it again in a recent issue of their magazine.    They’ve made a bit of an issue of this matter in recent years.

The new rules require that where eggs are described as “free range”, the label must state the stocking density.  There are also requirements about the ability of hens to forage outdoors.

Choice’s attitude was someway ungracious, including the comment that, “Unfortunately, the definition of free range eggs still isn’t strict enough to meet common sense expectations”.  Err – somewhat subjective, I would think!

As I mentioned in my previous post, I’m not entirely sure of Choice’s motives here.   Surely if they were concerned for the welfare of hens, their efforts would be directed at banning cage eggs?

Be that as it may, at our local supermarket, there are certainly “options”.  There are what are described “ethical” eggs, which are stated to come from hens having as stocking density of 1500 hens per hectare – but they’re more expensive than the other “free range” brands, stated to have a density of 10,000/hectare.

So, consumers have a choice here;  not only between different stocking densities but also between these and “cage” and “barn laid” eggs.  Yes, we buy “free range” eggs but the idea of being able to make an informed choice seems OK to me.

 

 

 

Shell/”Coles Express”

Although we still have “Shell” branded servos, in fact they’re not owned by Shell.  They were all sold to Vitol (a large, privately-owned Dutch-based trading company) several years back, along with the Geelong refinery.   There appear to be moves afoot to list the business (now known as Viva Energy) on the ASX.

However, many servos are managed by Wesfarmers/Coles as “Coles Express”.   I don’t know how the deal works, but it seems that somewhere along the line,  Wesfarmers/Coles are exposed to the price of fuel and at present are being hit by the price of fuel supplied to them by Viva Energy.

In fact, in the quarter to  March 2018,   Wesfarmers stated that, “Total Coles Express sales, including fuel, for the quarter were $1.3 billion, a decrease of 8.0 per cent on the prior corresponding period, driven by lower fuel volumes”.   In fact, it was stated that, “For the quarter, headline fuel volumes decreased 14.6 per cent and comparable fuel volumes decreased 15.9 per cent”.

Wow – that’s some fall!    And why?   The explanation may be in the Wesfarmers half-yearly results, where it’s stated:

“Coles Express’ earnings decreased due to changes in the commercial terms of its fuel supply arrangement”.

Put another way, seemingly Viva Energy are giving Wesfarmers/Coles a hard time on fuel prices.   For the average driver,  its shows.   Most of us have observed that Coles Express prices are the slowest to move when the pricing cycle for petrol is in the falling stages.

But now it seems also to manifest itself in another way as well:   buying petrol at a Coles Express servo recently, at about half the pumps, there was no hose for 91 octane unleaded.   The hoses at the pumps concerned were all dedicated to diesel and “premium” products (including premium diesel).   On the assumption that 91 octave unleaded is the most price-competitive product, and perhaps the least profitable, is it just me, or do I detect a desire to forego volume in the interests of profit.  Perhaps more sinisterly, the result may also be that motorists unable to shift their vehicle to another pump may have no alternative but to buy a premium product which their vehicle doesn’t need.

EDIT:  The graphs here confirm that, in 2017,  Coles Express had, on average, the highest prices.

Privacy

Noticed all those emails recently coming through, to the general effect that “we’re updating our privacy policy”?    But of course it’s not altruistic, it’s because the EU’s  General Data Protection Regultion recently came into effect (on 25 May).

Apparently this impacts on any company which gathers and handles information about Europeans, even if the company has no actual footprint in Europe.  The GDPR toughens the regulations about collecting data and gives individuals expanded rights to monitor it.

Hence, many of us are getting emails from companies that we’ve only had a passing connection with, as they get ready for the new regime.  Even though we’re not in Europe, presumably the hassle of identifying who is and who isn’t affected would often be much too great.

An email typical of those I received stated —

“Your privacy matters to us……We have updated our Personal Data Protection Policy as part of our ongoing commitment to complying with applicable data protection laws. Please take a moment to read the policy as it describes the purposes for which we collect, use and disclose your personal data….”.

Hmmm, the opening words perhaps over-state the situation (does my privacy really matter to them?), but at least the sender acknowledged that their motive was to comply with laws!

That NAB outage

I was holding NAB in high esteem (well, relatively, given there’s a Royal Commission occurring)- and then they go and have a five hour outage of all their systems!

On the NAB website, it’s stated that –

“The outage was caused by a series of failures, originating from our back-up power equipment, which isolated our mainframe.”

Well, it’s good that NAB has been reasonably up-front about what happened, but the question remains, how can this have occurred?    An outage for five hours or so?  Is our banking system really that brittle?   And why did it take so long to get the system up again?

Well, in relation to the latter, NAB state that,  “Power equipment failures like this are incredibly rare and haven’t occurred in a number of years, so it took our technicians several hours to recover our systems once power was restored. Our teams worked incredibly hard over the weekend to restore systems quickly, and continue to work hard to monitor the situation and ensure no further disruptions.”

Are they really saying that they didn’t know what to do?   Or am I mis-reading something?

It’s interesting to think of the wider implications, too.   There have been suggestions that we’re moving towards a “cashless” society (supposedly there are people out there who make even the smallest purchase on a card), but if outages like this can occur,  can a truly cashless society ever become a reality (even if merchants are offered an incentive to go cashless) ?

And from the perspective of governments, while a cashless society might make “tax evasion” less of an issue, perhaps in this era of cryptocurrencies, it may just be wishful thinking to imagine that all financial transactions will be ever able to be monitored by governments .

EDIT – and now big advertisements by NAB in the print media.

UPDATE:   And Visa in Europe recently had a long outage, too!