Notes from Brisbane, vol 6

Seppo: a not very polite term for an American person. From rhyming slang for septic tank / yank.

Bubbler: a drinking water tap, which are in many parks and trails throughout Brisbane.

Popper: a small carton of juice for kids.

Derro: a homeless person or someone with social mental issues, aka the man smelling of piss on the train. (Literally a ‘derelict’).

Interesting things I’ve learnt

A strike by workers at Castlemaine XXXX in 1979, which essentially stopped all production for two months, meant that other beers made it into Queensland for the first time. The article I’ve linked to was less than complimentary about beers from other Australian states; but I heard that, in fact, it woke Queenslanders up to the tastes of other beers. Probably not, quite, what the strikers wanted. In other news, I have yet to taste XXXX.

A strike by taxi drivers in September 2015, protesting about Uber, probably had much the same effect. I’ve not used a city cab, but have used four Uber cars since I’ve been here. Familiarity with the app and payment by credit card are the reasons more than anything else. One of them was at 2.7x surge pricing, too!

Nice to find a well-researched local history blog. It contains a photo from the bottom of our street from roughly 1930.

In the UK, a drinks can is 330ml. In Australia, it’s 375mL. I don’t quite understand why cans are bigger here. The abbreviated “L” is also used in the US and Canada to reduce confusion with an l looking like a I or 1. (You’ll spot in the UK that a juice carton often says 1 litre, rather than 1l.) In Germany and some other countries they use a ℓ symbol, if you’re interested.

Australian power sockets

Dating from 1937 and really only in use in Australia, New Zealand and parts of the Pacific Islands, this design was apparently built partially because it was cheap to make plugs (you can stamp the pins out of sheet metal, rather than having to specially make them for UK plugs.)

The power standard is 230v, 50Hz — just like the UK. The outlets have switches on them, just like the UK. Since 2000, the pins on the live and neutral plugs are half-insulated, just like the UK. But naturally, they’re a totally different shape.

Most irritating, to me, is that the power cable comes out at the same angle as the prongs, rather than at a 90-degree angle as UK plugs do. This makes neat placement of electrical equipment quite hard, since you need more space between it and the wall. And, naturally, they can be pulled out easily (including by yanking the wire).

The Chinese have a physically similar system, but installed “upside down”, ie with the earth pin at the top.

From what I can work out, there appears to be one manufacturer for the sockets here — at least, they all look identical, with this round switch and round faceplate. They have a maximum current of 10A (UK ones are 15A).

They’re relatively maddening, with less than 3 million people using them in the world, and I wonder whether they make the cost of importing electronics rather more onerous for global manufacturers? I can only assume they do.

I’ve bought a few replacement power cables, mostly for laptops (just the power cable, not, of course, the transformer itself). The office has a British 4-way adaptor plugged into an Aussie adaptor. Otherwise, we’re using a few adaptors in the few electronic devices we brought (notably DAB+ radio sets, the baby monitor, and a few chargers.) eBay was the cheapest place for a bucket load of these things, though I suspect they’re not meant for long-term use.

They’re not as annoying as US mains outlets — where the prongs are flat and so need friction to hold plugs in the socket, whereas the Aussie slants help gravity make sure they don’t fall out. But they’re still pretty annoying.

Incidentally, the third switch in the photo above controls a switch less socket under the sink. And, incidentally #2, we can have plug sockets like these in bathrooms next to the sink, because we’re grown-ups.

Loyalty schemes

I sign up to most loyalty schemes. Sometimes you get decent deals, occasionally you save enough points to get money off, but I’m the kind of person who finds this stuff interesting.

Flybuys is much like the UK’s Nectar: you get Flybuys points when shopping at stores. It’s run by Coles, the #1 supermarket brand, but many other places give you Flybuys points including K-Mart and Target. Flybuys points can be exchanged for money off at Coles, or vouchers at other places, or even Etihad airmiles.

Woolworths, the #2 supermarket brand, has a thing called Woolworths Rewards, which is probably the most piss-poor loyalty scheme I’ve used. Around the store are a tiny selection of products which offer a random amount of reward dollars back — my breakfast cereal is $5.99 but gives me $1 back in reward dollars. When I have earned $10 in reward dollars then I can, er, spend it on $10 worth of shopping. You might well ask “Why don’t they just reduce the cereal by $1?”, and I’d probably agree with you. It’s perfectly possible to spend thousands of dollars at Woolworths and not get a single thing back from the loyalty scheme. Woolworths is a little more premium than Coles, but only a little, and this is a truly rubbish reward scheme. (Update: they got rid of it, and moved to something much like Flybuys. Also, now, Woolies gives you Qantas points; Coles gives you Virgin Australia points.)

Rewardle is quite neat. This is the loyalty scheme that many cafés and coffee shops are with. Wave your QR-coded keyfob, card, app or Android watch in front of the Samsung tablets in these cafés, and you can collect points. The points are unique for each store, so it isn’t a Nectar-like thing; merely a replacement for stamped cards or expensive loyalty systems. My Rewardle app has about ten different stores on it that I’ve visited so far: and I’ve managed to claim a free coffee from one of the stores I frequent. A neat idea — one would presume that the stores get data collection of my details, and it’s much easier signing up once and not worrying about paper cards. I actually wish more people used it.

Australia also seems like a useful tech testbed for some companies. Skip is an app for coffee shops and cafés that lets you skip the queue. Punch your order in, pay through the app with a stored credit card, and then just be that guy who turns up, barges his way to the front of the queue and says “I’m James, I’ve already paid, can I have my order please” like a complete twat. I’m using it since I got a “first three coffees half price” deal from a local store, but I feel so awkward about using it, I’m not going to continue after that offer runs out.

Oh, and while I’m nattering on about this stuff: I’m using a prepaid VISA card to pay for most things, partially because I get two benefits out of it — first, some Virgin Velocity airmiles on every purchase, but second (and possibly just as useful), the instant I use it anywhere I get an email telling me how much I spent at which store. I would love this on a “proper” debit card, please. It’s surprisingly useful and calming. This prepaid VISA actually comes on the back of the Virgin Australia frequent flyers club card, and it’s a travel money card so you can put Euro or USD on it too (or whatever), which makes it both cheaper and less risky to use abroad. Really nice idea. (Update: it isn’t cheaper abroad: in fact, it’s a little more expensive than just using your normal bank card).

If I was a little cleverer, this collection of observations would have a pithy structure, and a nice ending. But it doesn’t.