Monthly Archives: September 2012

Sniff sniff

I went to the pharmacy today. The conversation went something like this.

Me: I need hay fever pills.

Pharmacy sales person: Ok. Well, we have …

Me: I need TWO DIFFERENT TYPES. That I can take at the same time. Please.

Pharmacy sales person: Oh, Well …

Me: And that prescription nasal spray? Get me some of that too.

Pharmacy sales person: *fetches hand cart*

Me: Oh and my kid needs some prescriptions filled. And please give me some butter menthol cough lollies too. And one of those creepy nasal irrigatiom things.

Because while I may be suffering, at least my credit card is suffering more.

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Posted by on September 20, 2012 in health


Packing time again

With school holidays looming, we’re headed off once more. The cat-sitter (and house-sitter) is booked, the rooms have been paid for. All that is left is to finish work, clean the car and pack. Oh, and write a 1500 word essay.

I have blogged before about trying to pack for game conventions. It’s fair to say, though, that that is the easiest of these tasks. Because when it comes down to it, we throw lots of clothes into a bag and then put games into the car until no more fit. And then trade them out until we have a decent set.

But to do that requires us to pack the car. And the car is still full of stuff I bought at IKEA a couple of months back, when I was going to clean out the Bigster’s bedroom. I got 60% of the work done, then stopped, and now it is around 20% more messy than it was, with 100% more floorspace covered. And I don’t want to move the new stuff in while the floor is still kinda incognito. So that’s a challenge, especially as the Bigster’s response to anyone going into her room while she is there is to go kind of Chuck Norris on them … and she’s there pretty close to 24/7 at the moment.

No-one cleans Chuck Norris's room


And before that can be done, there are several days’ worth of work to do (because going away just brings all of that week’s deadlines forward by a week) as well as a 1500 word essay on internet censorship to be written.

And I don’t think the meme generator can do either of those things for me, more’s the pity.

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Posted by on September 19, 2012 in decluttering, games, study, to-do, travel


Kindle registration = Usability fail?

My parents got a bit carried away at Otto’s school fete on Saturday and bought themselves a Kindle. They’ve been eagerly eyeing mine, and bought one for the Bigster for her birthday, so I suspect they had been working up to it for some time.

I love the feel of a paper book, but I also love the immediacy of a Kindle. I buy a lot of free/on special books, which is where the Kindle really shines, but I also use it for reference books when searchability is an issue.

On Sunday, I went to set up their Kindle and link it to my Amazon account (trusting that they won’t figure out the marketplace in a hurry … do you think I should be worried?),  and discovered something interesting.

See, I find the Kindle incredibly easy to use. You turn it on, use the “five way controller” to find what you want, page back and forth … it’s all there. And my parents had seen me use it and had tried it out and also found it easy. And they’re just nerdy enough to want a new toy.

But before they could use their Kindle, we had to register it. And this is a massive undertaking that took us quite literally 39 minutes (I checked my call logs).

Here’s what we found:

  • The Kindle (they have the Keyboard model) is quite unforgiving. Mum’s hands shake a bit, and sometimes she accidentally pressed the wrong key, then had to exit what she was doing to go back. Getting the wrong Symbol is particularly annoying.
  • The Kindle starts with the manual page open. I suspect it would be better to start with the Registration page. It took us quite a while to get there.
  • It’s easy to press the wrong button and the Kindle doesn’t give very informative error messages. Maybe this is a wish for mind-reading though – mum accidentally typed my email address wrongly (she typed melisssa – you’d think she’d know by now!) and it said “no username found”.
  • There was some anxiety when – after completing the registration process successfully – the first link on the screen she was returned to was ‘deregister’.

So here’s what could have been done better:

  • The Kindle should start with the registration page. Rewrite it to include a couple of basic usage tips if necessary, but be ready to receive the information required.
  • I should have been able to register the Kindle using the web interface. I’m sure this is possible in theory, as my own Kindle (bought through Amazon) arrived registered to me. Give me the serial number and I could have entered it straight away. Even if mum had then had to enter a password, at least it would have been one thing rather than many.

I suspect this is less of an issue for people in countries where Kindles are sold through Amazon, but in Australia we often buy through a third-party reseller (or, apparently, at school fetes).

That said, once she finally managed to register, we were in gravy. She scrolled through my archives, checking which books she wanted to read, while I scrolled through the web interface and sent some over to her. The web interface works well and mum was amazed to see things just appearing – the 3G is really excellent.

The only issue is going to be when she and dad want to read the same book, and have to fight over where it syncs to… I have a suspicion they might end up wanting another one.

So overall verdict: Kindle good, registration bad. I did reassure her repeatedly that the registration process is the hardest thing she will ever have to do on there.

It’s just a shame that they haven’t simplified it.

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Posted by on September 18, 2012 in books, work


School Fete

Saturday was our school fete. While these are a fairly normal part of life for many schools in Australia, I realised recently that they’re not something that happens everywhere.

In Australia, as in most countries (at least most where I have readers), schools are funded by the government. Parents are expected to make a “voluntary contribution” which is an interesting redefinition of the word voluntary (there is a lot of followup if you choose not to make that payment or can’t afford to do so) as well as to buy “essential educational items” (usually by paying a lump some to the school which then provides them). Some “private” or “independent” schools also receive income from parents who pay fees, which vary from around $2000 a year to well over $20,000 per year.

This funding, however, particularly for the government and lower-priced independent schools, seems to fall short of funding what the schools want to provide. In the case of Otto’s school, which is an independent school, there is a need for a sports ground which we currently do not have and which could easily cost $300,000 to build.

And so, schools do fund-raising. Sometimes they do lamington (or pie, or donut, or hot cross bun, or cupcake, or …) drives – where each family is invited to shake down family, friends and colleagues to order as many of the particular cake item as possible. They are then all delivered to the school in one massive lot, and parents deliver to their clients. There is usually a prize for the child or family who sells the most.  Ditto chocolates. Or tooth-brushes. Or mangoes. etc. Some do walkathons (or other —athons), or wash cars, or make and sell cookbooks.

But the best fund-raiser of all is often the school fete. When I were a lass, this meant a sausage sizzle and a cake stall and a few manky plants that someone had dug up the night before. These days, though, fetes are big business. Some schools apparently even hire professional fete organisers.

At the government school my girls used to attend, the fete raised somewhere in the order of $70,000 a year. Yes, you read that right. Seventy thousand dollars. The school budgeted to fund-raise somewhere over $100,000 a year and used that money to employ extra teaching staff. Activities included:

  • trash & treasure stall
  • jams & preserves
  • cakes (to take home)
  • raffles
  • silent auction
  • spinning wheel
  • coffee & cake
  • 3? commercially hired rides (cha cha, etc)
  • snow cones
  • soft drinks, beer and wine
  • live stage with bands
  • busking students
  • book stall (all new)
  • baby goods stall
  • bouncy castle
  • plant stall (bit better than the manky ones I remember!)
  • food:
    • sausages
    • gourmet burgers
    • wood-fired pizzas
    • souvlaki
    • butter chicken
    • etc

Now that school had around 470 students, and the entire school community spends 8 weeks preparing for the fete. Parents are asked to bake cakes, make preserves, donate items for hampers and even donate a cube (box of 24-30) of soft drink (soda) cans for sale on the day. Here is an article (2 years old) about this type of school fete:

Otto’s school has 49 students at the moment, from around 34 families. So there are some differences, principally around what we can staff. Despite this, we managed to put on a pretty amazing fete, and our informal exit polls showed that people had a great time.

A car full of balloons

We had a contest to guess how many balloons were in the car. The children had fun helping to fill it…

And so did we – and it was beautiful to see the school community come together to work so hard to make our little school shine. The fete co-ordinators have spent 5 years really bringing it all together now – and their experience showed. Each year, it gets a little better (and a little more profitable too). Of course we don’t make $75,000 from the day, but our per-student rate is pretty incredible.

Gingerbread hearts - very decorated

Gingerbread hearts are always popular. This one says Spatzerl (little sparrow). For the Christmas market, we’re thinking of doing some blanks that we can write on on the night.

It’s lovely to welcome volunteers from outside the school too, some of whom have come every year to volunteer their time, as well as other community members who come in for the day or for lunch, for “a little slice of Europe”. A good friend of ours drove 40+ minutes to come to the fete, then won third prize in the raffle. Virtue is sometimes its own reward, although she wasn’t sure quite what her partner would make of their new yellow spotty beanbag. Other friends were in town from Sydney and made the trip over for lunch. My mum and dad came out and then mum spent 4 hours selling jams and preserves, barely taking a break at all.

Still setting up. Later, this courtyard was filled with people eating, drinking and being merry. Tables were full all day.

But it was so much fun. Even working the fairy floss machine, which was more tricky than it looks and resulted in a fine coating of pink sugar, inside and outside clothing. And in hair. (Note to future self: Do not do fairy floss before taking photo of frock!)

And it was so much fun – but so busy – that I have no photos of:

  • the bouncy castle, or
  • the mini golf, or
  • the teddy bear hospital or
  • face painting,
  • the treasure hunt,
  • the Bobbycars,
  • the pirate scavenger hunt,
  • the sausages, Frikadellen and hot dogs,
  • the soup,
  • the juice, soft drinks and beer,
  • the box maze,
  • the pretzels,
  • the animal nursery,
  • the coffee and cake and waffles stall,
  • Penelope the Popcorn machine,
  • the exhibition of students’ art and student photos,
  • the badge making,
  • the book and toy stalls,
  • the preserves and produce stalls,
  • the amazing silent auction,
  • the live auction,
  • the Bavarian dancers or
  • either of the two fabulous bands (I had a little weep the second time they played Forever Young) (Because it was so good, not because it was so bad, like that craptacular version they used to play on The OC).

Although there is just one of the fairy floss machine:

Me, in a dirndl, holding fairy floss sticks like Bier Steins

Worst fairy floss maker in the world. The zoomed in version of this photo shows that I have fairy floss all over myself, including in my hair. A friend has a shot of me with it on my nose! But at least here we can pretend they are Biersteine.

And the funniest moment (for me, if not for the Bigster) was probably before I realised that my Dirndl did actually have a pocket, so I was having a braphone day, and I was up to my elbows in fairy floss but wanted my phone, and completely horrified the Bigster by asking her to OMG REACH INTO MY TOP AND GET MY PHONE OUT. Apparently it would have been better to ask someone I was not related to, or so she saw it (Note: The phone was over to one side, practically on my shoulder.). She did it eventually, which is why I have the above photo of me scowling at the fairy floss machine. Which richly deserved the scowl. And then I realised that I should perhaps not make jokes to strangers about licking my dress, even though there was probably enough sugar on it to keep me going for a week.

And all day Sunday, there were texts flying about what a wonderful day we’d had (and how knackered we were). And a friend and I went off to markets around town, lining up stallholders for our next big event, because sometimes the fun just doesn’t stop.

But the real beauty of our school fete – the thing that makes it stand out in comparison to other events – is not in the money that it raises; it’s in the way that the entire school community comes together for a day, baking, selling, running errands, even cleaning the toilets, to make sure that it is as lovely as it can be.

And it was.

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Posted by on September 17, 2012 in be happy, school


The story of Me, My Beloved and an Architect. A Flowchart in Three Columns.

I thought that a picture would be best.


So it’s back to me, the iPad and Home Designer. And the occasional tape measure.

The really annoying thing is that it has given us ideas above our station – nothing will live up to the Awesomeness that was that initial concept design.

The good thing is that we both realised that $X was WAY more than we were comfortable with. So we have revised our budget to 50% of X and I think we can do it. But with a builder, not an architect. And we won’t have to move out, although there might be a night or two in a local hotel/on a friend’s couch.


Posted by on September 3, 2012 in extension, flowcharts, grand plans