James Cridland

Notes from Brisbane, vol 5

I’ve had quite a lot of positive responses from these occasional blogs, which is interesting. So, as I move into the third month of officially being in Australia, here’s my experience so far…

Our stuff from the UK arrived by boat soon after I penned the previous blog. We didn’t send much over, and unpacking was relatively fast: there are just a couple of boxes of books left, waiting for a bookcase, and a box full of miscellaneous stuff that we need to sort out. The Australian Border Force had opened about four out of 30 boxes, including both our folding bikes (probably to check that the tyres were free of mud). It all felt a bit of an anticlimax, to be honest: we’d got rid of so much stuff, there really didn’t feel like much in the crate.

One of those things was our Samsung TV (an F6510 smart TV, or, if you like, a UE32F6510). I’d read up on this telly, and thought it would have no problems operating in Australia: so one of the first jobs was to plug it in, and to do a factory reset. Which I did, and it offered me the choice of “United Kingdom” or “Ireland” as my settings. Choosing the UK, a scan of Freeview (it’s called that here, too) found some channels, but not all of them, and the channel list was entirely messed up.

Anyway, I fiddled with the hidden service mode a bit. This, it turns out, almost always sends this television into a hideous boot loop. To fix that, you need to open up the television, short-circuit two pins to erase the internal memory (above), power up the TV, keep short-circuiting the pins as you power it down and go into service mode, change Local Set to AD_AU_NZ (don’t be tempted by AD_AU_NZ2), change the Type to the highest one starting with 32, and then reset it. This trial and error took four hours. If you’re interested, Samsung haven’t enabled HBBtv on their Australian setting, though had done on the German one (yes, I tried).

Anyway, the telly now works a treat. The ABC’s iView app is significantly improved and is actually good.

While we’re talking TV: I have a Chromecast which was a lovely device in the UK. Here, though, the ABC claim they support it with iView, but it was a stuttery mess when I tried (and it turns out it’s that way for everyone: a poor experience that I’d not, personally, have put live). Nobody else supports it — 7, 9, Ten or SBS. So, I gave up trying to use a Chromecast. Instead, I spent $109 (about £50) on a Telstra TV, which is a rebadged Roku box with catchup services from all the broadcasters, YouTube, things like Netflix, and not much else. User interface isn’t much to write home about, to be honest, but it works really well for catchup for all broadcasters. (I tried a UK Roku stick, incidentally — after resetting it, I realised that Roku don’t appear to support Australia at all, and there’s nothing decent there.)

Good grief, this is dull so far, isn’t it?

Well, let me tell you about the time when we had our electricity cut off. I was doing a little work when all of a sudden there was a strange kind of explosion noise, and all the power went off. I waited a few minutes, and then dug out the telephone directory to find out who to call.

Queensland electricity is much the same as UK electricity. Lots of people will sell you electricity, and there’s one company who actually does the infrastructure. (I believe that the Queensland prices are so tightly controlled there’s no difference between the companies). Anyway, the infrastructure company is called Energex.

So, I called Energex’s “Report a power cut” number from my mobile, to hear a message saying “Energex are currently aware of a power cut on (My Street) in (My Suburb). We will have an update in (one hour)”. On checking the website later, over 1,000 homes were without power — but the automated system had told me the information I wanted to know: that my street’s power was off and how long I might be waiting.

This isn’t hard — they’d looked up my mobile number against their customer records and checked if I was affected. But what a clever, simple system. We can all learn from it: simple, automated use of customer data you already have.

Work has been interesting. I’ve had a fair few little projects. The timezone difference has been more of an issue than I thought it would be: not for making calls (7pm is 9am in the UK; 6.30am is 3.30pm in New York) but for email. If I finish work at 5.30, email starts coming in at 5.15pm (7.15am in the UK), and there’s quite an amount of stress in seeing a bunch of emails coming in that I won’t be answering for over twelve hours. I wasn’t expecting that.

It’s also hard to ask a question and know that you’ll not get an answer until tomorrow; or, to sit on email at 9pm achieving lots but eating into your personal time.

I used to do a lot of work in cafés and coffee shops. In Brisbane, I’m finding this a little harder, because there aren’t that many big chains. Starbucks has only about four stores in Brisbane’s centre; The Coffee Club is larger but, as someone on Reddit put it, “not very good coffee, and airline meals with airline ticket prices”. Everywhere else is independent. This is great for coffee, but means that WiFi isn’t always offered (generally isn’t), and I feel relatively uncomfortable about sitting there working. I’m slowly finding places that I can work in, though.

In terms of wifi, Telstra, the Australian version of BT, has a service called Telstra Air — much the same as BT WiFi With Fon (or, if you like older branding, BT Openzone). If you’re with Telstra, you can use these hotspots, and they’re in many places but not nearly as ubiquitous as BT’s — the service is newer and not, yet, supported by many of Telstra’s modems. Australian internet being Australian, these aren’t free, either — the data you use on a Telstra Air hotspot normally comes from your home allowance (not right now since there’s an offer on). So, this further reduces mobile working opportunities. I am, however, still enjoying discovering new coffee places.

While I discover new places, I’m also keeping notes and reviews in Google Maps. There’s a little reward system built into the app: if you are a good reviewer, or you add photos or correct information, you’re given points: and points mean prizes. Most notably, getting to be a level 4, quite a hard slog, got me a free, two-year, 1TB data package for Google Drive, coming at exactly the right time for me as I came off my old Google account. That’s about $200 of value. If you get to be a level 5, then there’s a chance Google will invite you to their San Francisco annual conference if you’re really, really lucky. (And pay for the flights.)

The Australian Government’s online account system, my.gov.au, works relatively well though really suffers from inconsistent and messy UX. (They should learn from the folks at GOV.UK — which is just excellent). I’ve used it a little to set up a few things. One thing I’ve learnt is that the Australians only pay child benefit if the child is fully immunised. This seems sensible to me; though we’re waiting for the details from our daughter’s UK inoculations to be transferred over. I can see her immunisation records online, and all is pretty easy to check, so that’s good.

HSBC has managed to lose just over $2,000 of our money. This has been interesting to try to fix — after three weeks of vague wondering, I went into HSBC to be told that the UK business is entirely separate and they can’t help. “But you’re the world’s local bank,” I said, pointing to the slogan spray-painted onto the locked-down pen in front of me. “No, sir, we are not,” came the reply.

HSBC Australia gave me an Australian number to call. “They’ll put you through to the UK”, I was told. On calling the number, I was admonished by the lady at the other end. “We’re HSBC Australia. You need to ring this UK number.” On calling that number, a thirty minute international call ended with a man called Andy promising to call me back. You can guess that they didn’t; two days later I called the same UK number, to have someone else from HSBC tell me I was calling the wrong UK number. I am really pleased I’m shutting all my HSBC accounts, and do wonder how they can market themselves as “the world’s local bank” with a straight face.

And that’s about where we all are. This is a much less exciting blog post than I was hoping it to be. Congratulations on making it to the end of this little treat.